The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

AUTHOR! AUTHOR!

Spurred on by this post at the Howling Curmudgeons, my take on the whole dream team concept. Except I'll do it with a twist: every writer on my dream team will be drawn off my list of "bookshelf books". Hey, if Marvel can get the rotting corpse of Phil Dick to write Black Widow, it might as well have Melville ghost write a book as well.

Without further ado....

Captain America, by Pynchon and Cam Stewart. History, conspiracy, and day-glow pop Americana; perfect for the reclusive one.

Wolverine, by Melville and Darrick Robinson. This seems to fit thematically, somehow. Call it a gut instinct.

Mr. E, by Pullman and Bolton. I'm only familiar with the Mr.E character through the Books of Magic and the folloingw mini by KW Jeter. Based on that limited exposure, though, I think that the character has a neat concept; the blind man with knives, hunting down evil, trying to impose certainty on an ambigous world. Lots to work with here for Pullman.

The Shadow, by Ellroy and Chaykin. This was originally Batman, before I came to my senses. It has to be the Shadow. It has to. The Red Menace, the Mob, the Communist Hordes....and the Shadow pushing back against it all. Sex and violence in the original packaging.

Alpha Flight, by Powers and Quitley. I've always had a soft spot for Alpha Flight; they imprinted rather strongly on my ten year old self. And the concept has room for lots of tweaks; it's been variously a horror, sci-fi, and humor title. Powers excels at finding the hidden connections between things; the weird link just sideways from everyday life. In that vein, AF provides lots of opportunity with very little continuity baggage.

Scalphunter, by McCarthy and Mckean. Because, well, it has to be a Western, doesn't it?

Spawn, by Posner. Only because he's worked with the character before. And does the artist really matter on a joke assignment? Thought not.

Hellblazer, by Amis and Lark. An English bastard writing the exploits of an English bastard. The issue on dental horror promises to be a classic.

Dr. Fate, by Swanwick and Jae Lee. Dr. Fate was my first favorite character, thanks to a segment in some All-Star Squadron annual where he is imprisoned in a house made of skin. The Giffen mini was tops as well; and creepy. A book perfect for Swanwick: magic, order, chaos, systems of control, Egypt, and lies told by and through golden helmets.

The Human Target, by Thompson and Cassady. As good as Milligan is, Thompson is better. Seriously. You owe it to yourself to read Rupert Thompson.

The Question, by Murakami and Ha. Oh, this would be good. So, so good. So good it hurts me to think about.

Incidentally, I would so spend money on a Los Lobos book by Los Bros Hernandez. Johnny B, I bow to your editorial genius.
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A THEME RUNS THROUGH THESE

Some words of wisdom, found at various places the past couple of days.

From Steven Grant:

I mean, come on. There are crappy superhero comics, crappy French comics, crappy manga, and great superhero comics, great French comics, great manga. There are great company-owned comics and creator-owned comics that wouldn't qualify as toilet paper.  Fantagraphics is one of the great publishers out there, but even Fantagraphics has published its share of crap; you can't expect a comic to be good just because Fantagraphics puts it out any more than you can expect any comic with the Marvel name to be good. Because genres, publishers, designer labels, modes of creation, target audiences, characters, nations of origin, title affiliations, size, print style and even talent names don't matter.  The only thing that makes a comic book good or bad – the only thing that matters, that really matters – is the work.


An old essay by Kim Thompsen, found via Tim O'Neill, the Johan Most of the blogosphere:

"[Comics] need a middle ground somewhere between Utter Shit and Great Art. Otherwise the marginalization will continue, and the genre stuff will turn into modern network TV (i.e. horrible beyond belief) and the good stuff will turn into modern poetry, and we'll all be fucked."

There are chords connecting these two statements.  When I get time (that is, likely never) I'll tease them out.  Or feel free to do it in my comments, if you're more ambitious than me.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A BOOT TO THE HEAD

My thesis advisor at Chicago was Steven Walt; Walt has since gone over to teach at the Kennedy School. In 2003, Walt (along with the indispensable John Mearsheimer), debated Max Boot on the necassity of the Iraq War.

My thesis was on the uses of military force to prevent genocide and/or end human suffering. The title: Paving the Road to Hell: A Critique of Humanitarian Military Interventions.

Max Boot recently authored an article: Paving the Road To Hell: The Failure of UN Peacekeeping.

I know this is mere chance, two guys using the same obvious turn of phrase, but still. It makes me feel dirty, as if by virtue of the transitive property I'm suddenly a jingoist. Bastard. Not enough you help screw up my country, you had to go and screw with my thesis as well. That's just not right.
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REASONS WHY I AM NOT IN ADVERTISING

I've been pimping John Holbo's (along with his wife Belle's) blog for as long as I can remember, to very little effect. Until now, that is; Holbo has caught the attention of the big boys, comics blogosphere division, recently. Which is appropriate, as Holbo has smart and interesting things to say about superheros. It's about damn time.

The weird thing is that it took this long. Holbo writes for Crooked Timber as well as his own site, and CT gets leaps and bounds more traffic than anyone in this little community. I'd have thought that more comics sites would have picked up on him by now, just by virtue of his relative size in the ecosystem. Apparently not. Like I said, weird; and it does perhaps say something about the relative closed-offedness, to coin a term, of the comics blogosphere.

And while we're invoking the Big Boys, Brian Hibbs has a new blog. You don't need me to tell you who Hibbs is; suffice it to say that he has an incredibly unique perspective on the industry as compared to your run of the mill blogger: his money is where our mouths are. He's worth listening to, even if you disagree with what he's saying. Go check him out.

Check out as well Kip Manley's Long Story Short Pier. Consistently good stuff on culture and sometimes comics; his preemptive summation of SDCC was gold.
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NOW THE DRUGS DON'T WORK

Speaking of bloggers whose productivity defies logic, Jim Henley is on sabbatical. This is sad, inasmuch as Unqualified Offerings was the first blog I read every day, but not unexpected; it's clear from reading UO that Henley has a very full life, and something eventually had to give. A family, poetry, role-playing, marathon training; frankly, whatever drugs he was on that gave him the stamina for all that plus two plus years of daily posting, well, I want me some.

Anyway. Enjoy the time off Jim; you will be missed.
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CONFESSIONS OF A LAZY ASS

Still haven't gotten around to reading Eightball #23. For that matter, I still have yet to see Kill Bill 2. Hell, I still have to finish reading the remainder of Morrison's X-Men run. But I have, you know, grand plans to do all three. Someday. But maybe not for a while. I've got to finish The Crossing before I start Eightball. A genius Clowes may or may not be, but he ain't McCarthy. I'm waiting on the right format for Kill Bill and the X-men.

To make up for my relative slack on the Clowes front, I meant to finish up a fairly negative review of Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. Life has not been cooperative; I've had barely enough time to throw a short post up here, and I'm not wading into that critical thicket without first making sure that my analysis is solid. Which takes time I don't have, or haven't had recently.

I know. Cry me a river. Here; in advance of my promised Clowes post, go read Rose Curtin's take on Eightball. It pretty well sums up my problems with Like a Velvet Glove, in much more succinct and precise language than I normally achieve. I'll expand on it eventually.

It's always sort of a surprise to me how much time many of the blogmind seem to have. The people who post every day; I have no idea how they do it. I have maybe five and a half hours of free time a day. Two and half of that is taken making dinner, eating, and cleaning up. That leaves three or so hours. Trying to cram my wife and friends and the blog and books and comics and basketball and everything else...well, things sometimes have to give. Often it's the blog. Not because I don't have the passion, but because it simply takes more time to do properly. I can whip out papers for work; personal writing takes me more time, for some reason. Those particular writing muscles have grown weak and flaccid through disuse, as witnessed by the numerous posts here that feature egregious sentence construction, verb-tense errors, and logical holes so big they're more like canyons. It would help if I could edit my own work, but no luck on that front. I read what I intended to write, not what is actually on the page.

So. I knew all this going in; the name isn't Dave Prolific for a reason. And I assume that most people here take the name at face value. But still; when months go by and there are, like, three posts I feel bad. So consider this an apology both ex post and ex ante; for the weeks when nothing was going on here, and the inevitable weeks in the future when all that's going on is the rent.

When hobbies turn into work; I wonder what Weber would have said?
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YOU ARE NOT FIT TO SERVE IN MY BELOVED SQUIRREL ARMY!

I outrank Jakala. Now go shine my boots, you bushy tailed maggot!
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Thursday, July 22, 2004

NOW WHERE HAVE I HEARD THIS BEFORE?

I never thought much of Matt Fraction, which is perhaps a crap thing to say about someone I've never met.  True, though.  His online and literary persona--think manly hipster on meth (a type that seems way to common in comics these days)--is simply designed to push every single one of my buttons.  The one book of his I read, Rex Mantooth, was essentially nothing but not-so-shocking ultraviolence and not very funny dirty jokes.  And I like ultraviolence and dirty jokes, mind.  So I've not gone out of my way to read more Fraction.

Now it looks like I might have too, though.  Fraction has a new column at CBR, while pimping which he said this: 

[I] miss that kind of critical eye that TCJ used to really shine on the mainstream; just because it might be a trashy culture doesn't mean it doesn't deserve some kind of serious thinking applied to it."

A motto I can get behind if there ever was one.

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SUCH A PERFECT DAY

One of those days. My sister has been out of town for a few weeks, which means her place has been vacant. I go by and check it every now and again. At some point last week, someone noticed she wasn't home. I found out last night that someone forced her door; tore the deadbolt right out of the frame. Her place was never clean, but now it's pretty well trashed. Today I left work earlier, went to the hardware store, screwed that door shut, and replaced all the locks on her other door.

Weird working there. I was perhaps unduly paranoid; I wanted to finish the work up quick and get out without anyone seeing. Little noises made me jumpy. When you're jumpy power tools sound even louder. Not a happy combo. Making it worse was the fact that her place is still torn apart (I can't begin to put it back together; her apartment is organized in accordance with Crazy Lady With Cats quarterly). It was like working on a set from Seven.

The real lousy thing is that I know who broke in, but I can't prove it at all. Not at all. I dearly wish I could confirm with evidence what my gut tells me is true. Or failing that, that the real world permitted vigilante justice, just this once. If what is in my head right now was on the page, it would not appear in a book for children.

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Monday, July 19, 2004

IMITATION SEAN COLLINS LINKBLOG POST

Still haven't gotten around to reading the Times piece; but I have read a lot of commentary on it. Sean Collins rounds up most of it here. Below are a couple of pieces found hiding in the hills:

Kip Manley lays out the punchlist of items McGrath needs to address for a finished piece.

John Holbo on McGrath's assumption that Maus is nonfiction. The remainder of that piece, which attempts (I think) to explain how superhero stories retain their power, by allowing readers and creators access to both childhood and adulthood at once; they exist in some weird narrative space beyond time, new to the readers nostalgic for them. Not sure I entirely agree, but an interesting thesis.

Meanwhile, on Earth-S, Holbo has another interesting piece up on the strength and weaknesses of the various superhero genre conventions. Money quote: "What you get is something that is truly equivocal in its moral tone, in interesting ways. It is deflationary and heroic at the same time, sentimental and distrustful of sentiment, cynical and ironic yet serious and earnest, child-cultish and yet well aware of the limitations of the child's point of view; agnostic about whether it is better to be a child or an adult. I think Busiek and Moore work the same side of this street, despite their differences, because their work is so equivocal in its attitude to the straight cape book." Mr. Holbo, meet Mr. Singer. Now....FIGHT!

Actually, I sort of suspect there is a lot of common ground between the two. My stunted fanboy psyche, however, demands that all conflict be resolved through violence.

And speaking of Singer, this article in Slate (trying to jumpstart the critical backlash against Wilco) I think speaks pretty directly to Singer's concerns as raised in this post; not surprising, given that Singer builds his post out of an observation on music. The avant garde and retrenchment, happening in real time.
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LORD HELP US IF I EVER GO TO SDCC

Man. I leave town for vacation, and the blogosphere explodes over the New York Times and Eightball #23. This correlation between my absence and blogospheric activity might be mere coincidence; but then again, the last time I left on business, the fascism charge ran rampant. Two trips, two bouts of extended commentary? Sounds like a trend to me. In other news, no tigers have attacked my house since I found my magic anti-tiger rock.

Anyway, not much to say on either topic. Sitting on the dock (and/or playing ghost in the graveyard (and thereafter walking around like a cripple)) left little time to follow the news of the day. More later, maybe, if and when I get around to getting up to speed.
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

PUTTING YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH ISN'T

So, by now everyone knows that the Supreme Court has struck down the Child Online Protection Act (COPA); it's gotten coverage from mainstream media, your better class of comics bloggers, and, most interestingly, at Newsarama, which gave the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund room to crow about the victory. Seems that the CBLDF filed an amicus brief, or somesuch.

This is not something the CBLDF should be proud of.

Look. The CBLDF has limited resources. It has to make hard decisions as to where to invest both its time and money. And filing an amicus brief ain't cheap. Even a short brief, figure fifteen pages, probably represents sixty hours of lawyer time at the very minimum. At two hundred books an hour, figure that brief cost at minimum twelve thousand dollars.

Okay; that's a rough, if conservative estimate. Like any estimate, it could be wrong. Maybe the CBLDF got a deal on the legal work; maybe it was done pro bono. Maybe their lawyer was really quick. Hey, I'm speculating here. I could be wrong; I have no particular knowledge of CBLDF's finances or litigation arrangements. But the larger point remains: it's not free to get involved in something like the COPA litigation.

And what benefit does COPA get from its investment? Not much. Everyone went after COPA; the ACLU, big media, the EFF. The marginal effect of CBLDF dogpiling on is pretty minimal. The arguments are the same whether made by the ACLU or the CBLDF, and the Court isn't going to care that much that yet another group think that the law is problematic. Nor does the CBLDF bring much to the party as far as presenting a unique comics-centric viewpoint. As far as COPA was concerned, media is pretty much media, whether OGN or VOD. It's not a case where the actual plaintiffs might be suspected of incompetence, where an amicus brief might be necessary to ensure that the Court focuses on the right issues. The ACLU tends to do an okay job on this type of thing, despite being unamerican pinko bastards. Long story short, COPA was dead in the water with or without the CBLDF getting involved, and it sank just as fast with the CBLDF being involved as without it. The CBLDF doesn't have much, if any, effect on the outcome of the case.

So, then. Getting involved in COPA: not cheap (likely) and minimal reward.

It gets worse.

Every dollar CBLDF spends chasing a prestige case like the COPA matter is a dollar it doesn't have to defend someone like Jesus Castillo. Dollars were at a premium there too; CBLDF racked up over sixty grand in fees defending that case. And the CBLDF lawyer still screwed up the case, making basic mistakes; had the CBLDF attorney remembered to simply raise objections (raise objections! to just raise them, irrespective of the outcome in the trial court!) at certain points, the case might have overturned on appeal. But he didn't, and it wasn't.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Castillo lost his case because the CBLDF didn't pursue it zealously. I can't say that; I wasn't there. But it does point up the fact that 1) incompetent trial litigation isn't cheap and 2) competence matters. Competent litigation costs even more. More, likely, than the typical comic store or employee can afford on its own. Think your local Android's Dungeon could pony up sixty thousand dollars in legal fees and still stay in business? For that matter, you think they could ring up Scot Mcleod to come testify for them? Didn't think so. When the CBLDF takes up these cases, it can at least give the defendant a fighting chance, and should be able to do even better than that.

Let's review then.

High profile appellate litigation via amicus briefs? Expensive, doesn't make much difference in the larger scheme of things. Trial level defense work? More expensive, but can actually make a difference to the poor schlub facing a felony conviction. If I'm the CBLDF, I'm going to try and husband my resources to use them where they make, you know, an actual difference. But that's just me.

Bonus material for the legal geeks in the room. The Supreme Court didn't actually strike down COPA; rather, the Court upheld the district court's injunction and remanded for further factual development, for the legal geeks in the room. An injunction can only issue if the requesting party is likely to prevail on the merits; so while the Supreme Court addressed the merits it didn't actually resolve the issues. Which is why it goes back down to the district court (the lowest federal court, the trial court of the federal system) for further fact finding.

Isn't law fun?

Oh, and the obligatory CYA ending. The CBLDF is, whatever flaws it might have, better than nothing. It is out there, fighting the mostly good fight while I sit here watching the Food Network. It's worthy of your and mine support. Giving them money is a good thing. Go do it.
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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

WAIT, THE MOB HASN'T SPOKEN YET!

Matt Rossi wants input on his next essay topic. Go there, and give him direction; he is far too dangerous to be allowed to ruminate unsupervised.

My suggestions: the Unknown Soldier; of else, why the original Alpha Flight series was as close to a horror title as Marvel published during the eighties.
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THE LIMITING PRINCIPLE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

Man. It seems as if every hot topic of the last six months has an answer--fascism, ethics, the popularity of genre material, ambiguity in endings--has an answer in Spider-Man 2. A lot could be written about the film; a great deal already has.

Anyway. I'm going to follow the herd on this one, because I think that up to a point the herd is right: this is a film about duty, about the real meaning of Uncle Ben's famous injunction. The film is not exactly subtle about this theme; I mean, it does feature the talking ghost of Uncle Ben, just in case us dullards didn't get the point. But, beyond trotting out Stan Lee's most famous maxim yet again, what does the film really say about duty? Surprisingly little, it turns out.

Sure, the movie correctly observes that it is possible to give so much that you lose yourself. Point in its favor. And it suggests that it is possible to have a space of one's own and still remain devoted to the greater good. Great responsibility does not require a monklike renunciation of the world.

Except of course that it does. Or it might. The film cops out when it's time to put the cards on the table.

Sure, at the end, MJ deals herself in to a relationship with Peter. Peter doesn't have to be alone, and gets to have what he's always wanted. Or does he? As others have noted, MJ doesn't seem altogether sure of the lot she's cast, standing there in the window. And really, the first time Peter leaps out the window to chase sirens, it's understandable; the fifth, of fiftieth, perhaps less so. How does much satisfaction will MJ derive from playing the role of the soldiers wife (hat tip to Tacitus, in this comment thread, for the metaphor) Worse. So Peter and MJ can be together. But every second they spend together is a second Peter doesn't have to prowl around playing savior; the opportunity cost of their time together is a little kid potentially getting hit by a bus. How is he supposed to live like that? How does he enjoy the moment? How does having MJ there by his side provide any sort of comfort against the doubts that must arise out of being with her? How does he draw an arbitrary line between the world and himself?

This is of course the interesting question, one begged by Uncle Ben's command. "Great responsibility?" This is not a phrase that lends itself to clean and easy limits. Any limiting principle has to come from outside the phrase's dictates, by fiat. Saying I do (or, in MJ's case, I don't) is the easy part. The hard part is building a meaningful life together in the face of their other obligations. Is the movie aware of this? Seems like it; again, witness the emotions ripple across MJ's face as she tries to come to terms with Peter's first post-kiss foray as Spider-Man. And clearly, the film is setting itself up as a larger narrative; no finality here. Henry Farrell is right to argue that this film could become much more resonant in the context of a larger story; he's wrong to argue that this film is in any way the antithesis of the first film's focus on duty over self.

Right then. This has all been the long way of saying, I suppose, that I think that it is a mistake of reading the film as either endorsing or refuting Uncle Ben, and that such assertions are more ideological wish projection than is warranted; the film itself, either out of wisdom or cowardice, simply ducks answering the question it raised. Time I suppose will tell whether it has an answer, or thinks it does, or if it is content merely to raise the question; and this last is not a task without value.

Or, to put it more succinctly: I really dug that movie, and so did the wife.
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Monday, July 05, 2004

THE BOOKSHELF

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes had what he referred to as a vomit test; if a law was so poorly conceived as to make him want to vomit, that law was suspect. Frankly, if so scatalogical a test was good enough for Holmes, I figure a similar test is good enough for me, though for the opposite purpose; if a work of art makes me say "holy shit", it's a worthy work. It's connected with me on a gut level, which is what I demand from art. The hell with intent, with historical importance; if I don't feel it, it's not good art to me.

Which is a long way of introducing my response to the pop quiz working it's way through the net: naming the books on your shelf of favorites. The books below aren't all on the same shelf; with space at a premium in my house, these books can't find a common home. But these are books which would find themselves on that mythical shelf, space permitting. They're all books that passed the shit test. Without further ado, the list:

Lord of the Rings, by Tolkein. Yeah, it's everybody and their dog's favorite book now; so what. I read this when I was but a wee lad, stuck with a broken arm on a family vacation in Arizona, watching the rest of family play in the pool. Blew my little mind, and gave me a lifelong fear of spiders.

The High King, by Alexander. I read this, the climax of this series, first. The other are good, but this is the cream of the crop; epic fantasy based on the Celtic mythos. Opened my eyes to the fact that there myths out there other than Greek and Norse.

It, by King. One of the few books that actually scared me.

Going After Cacciato, by O'Brien. Any oxymoron, a sweet book about a terrible war. A book about longing to escape from a very bad place.

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoevsky. There are reasons it is a masterpiece, which you don't need me to repeat here. All of them are correct, even the ones that aren't consistent. It's that kind of book; it contains multitudes.

Arms and Influence, by Schelling. If you want to thing rigorously about public policy, Schelling is the touchstone. This book is about military policy, and contains an extended section comparing atomic weapons to murder by icepick. A dash of cold water for minds filled with assumptions.

Dance Dance Dance, by Murakami. Sad and sweet, an existential love story, and the tale of a sheep man. And yet so much more. I love Murakami more than words can really convey, and I can't convey the plot of this book in words. He has that effect.

Five Gates of Hell, by Thompsen. Rupert Thompsen rights books that are filled with inexplicable dread. All of them are good, but this is his master work, the story of two friends and a city obsessed with death, in which morticians are rock stars and the Day of the Dead is Christmas and Fourth of July in one. Spooky and disturbing, in the most profound senses of those terms.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Swanwick. I've written about this before. This book is simply shocking. Not for the faint of heart or conviction.

The Information, by Amis. London Fields is probably the superior work; but this is the one that hit my where I lived when I read it. Testimony to the power of context. The kind of book that makes you not want to grow up, because growing up is to fail yourself.

Overcoming Law, by Posner. A book that neatly captures several thoughts I didn't even know I had about the practice of law. All about how and why law fails, and how and why it doesn't even recognize this failure, so taken is it with its own majesty.

Blood Meridian, by McCarthy. Again, I wrote about this before. It scares me that someone can nurture this sort of misanthropy; I suppose it might be for the best McCarthy is a recluse.

Last Call, by Powers. I'm so jealous of Powers' imagination it hurts. This is his best book, or at least the one that grabbed me the most. Read in a day while stuck in Knoxville; and the imaginative buzz I got from the book got me through another week there.

American Tabloid, by Ellroy. A genre work that people will still read in seventy years. The secret history of the cold war, as seen through the eyes of junkies, whores, mobsters, exiles, presidents, agents, and other lowlifes. Stylized and plausible, in love with its own vulgarity. A beautiful thing.

The Golden Compass, by Pullman. Read during jury duty. Another work that of powerful imagination. The bears; ah, the bears. It made me feel like I was nine again and discovering a new and secret place. That's not an easy thing to do.

Moby Dick, by Melville. Sure, the bits on whaling can be sort of dull. And the language is not easy to get into. But the payoff....don't let the fact that it is the Citizen Kane of American literature put you off. It's earned the rep.

Gravity's Rainbow, by Pynchon. Again, not an easy read. But it's linguistic and narrative complexity is not a stylistic tic but a necessity; it's the story of the century, in all its contradictory glory. It can't be simple because neither life nor history is simple; it can't be consistent because life isn't. Worth the slog, and surprisingly funny; the payoff is chilling, and one of the few successful pieces of metafiction I can remember.
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UPGRADED TO INFREQUENT, WITH EXPECTATIONS OF FULL RECOVERY; OR, SUMMERTIME, AND THE POSTING AIN'T EASY

Out of commission the last week or so, as I spent my time either working or chasing down the various bugs which had nested in my computer's nooks and crannies. Amazing the things I found hiding in there.

So, the good news is that my system is clean and my time is once again free. Posting, though, won't resume until sometime around July 15th or so; the wife, her sister, and her sister's husband, and myself are all heading up to the Formerly Frozen (now soggy) Tundra of central Wisconsin, to while away a week on the lake.

Now don't trash the place while I'm gone.
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