Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lorin Stein on Publishing

Even as I contemplate my exit from it, publishing holds a special place in my heart. It most likely always will.

Lorin Stein has been blogging at The Atlantic on the topic of publishing. As one would expect, it's excellent. After discussing the the death of book reviews in local papers, Stein says this:

I left book publishing to edit The Paris Review because I think the situation can be dramatically improved. Not in the high-stakes game of bestsellers and Time covers, but down here on the ground, where reputations and markets are built and readers make up their own minds. I want there to be a magazine where fiction and poetry come first, where there's no hype, and where the aim is to reach the 100,000 people who, a few years ago, had never heard of Roberto Bolano—but whose lives have been slightly changed by his fiction.

 Stein writes often at The Paris Review's blog, by the way. They do good things there, they do.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yet More on Zippered Baseball Uniforms

Let's revisit baseball uniforms that close using a zipper, that topic that interests no one except for me.

I probably should have checked this site a while ago, but Paul Lukas' Uni Watch blog centered a 2008 post on the auction of a somewhat rare St. Louis Cardinals jersey, a somewhat rare jersey that happens to feature a zipper.

Lukas consults with Brian Finch, manager of the Cardinals Hall of Fame, who reveals that 1955 was the last season for zippered uniform shirts. What happened after that year? Did zippers suddenly go out of style? Did interlocking metal teeth pose a safety hazard for diving ballplayers?

Still not sure about the answers to any of these questions, but at least we have a time frame to work with here. The mystery is slowly unraveling.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Limits of Pop Culture

This is not one of those stuffy posts, questioning the value of popular entertainment in artistic terms. That's a worthy line of inquiry, but it's not for now. I have in mind a way more basic question: will anyone even remember the popular culture which today seems ubiquitous and permanent?

Here's my starting point, a quick anecdote shared by Jim Emerson in June of this year:

Over Memorial Day weekend I attended a high school graduation in Albuquerque. One of the graduating senior boys gave a speech in which he used car parts as a metaphor for the components of one's personality or identity. It was a clever piece he'd co-written with a friend, delivered with wry humor. Afterwards, the head of the school -- a man I'd estimate was in his 60s -- took the stage and thanked the student, quipping: "Baby, you can drive my car anytime."

Thud. Thunderous silence mixed with scattered, bewildered titters.

The next night at a graduation party, the kid who'd given the speech was standing around with a few friends and the uncomfortable subject came up.

"What was that?" he said. "'Baby, you can drive my car?!?'"
"It was creepy," said one of the girls.
I piped in: "It was creepy -- because it was totally inappropriate and made no sense. Unless he was attempting to seduce you. He was just trying to make a Beatles reference for some reason."
"Oh!" exclaimed a couple of students.
"I didn't even think of that," said the boy. "But still, it was creepy."

This is The Beatles we're talking about. I honestly don't think it's possible for anything today--in our fractured culture--to be as popular as The Beatles were in 1965, the year in which "Drive My Car" was released in the UK. And now, a scant 45 years later, burgeoning adults don't recognize some of the most recognizable lyrics of our most recent century.

You'd think the documentarian nature of the internet would help keep these fleeting bits of culture alive, and, to a certain extent, this is true. I had no idea who these John and Marsha people were that Peggy and Joey kept prattling on about in the premiere episode of Mad Men's fourth season. But, thanks to the web, I was quickly able to find out. It seems to me that this general procedure is how memory will work from now on. Someone will encounter an obscure reference, and she'll proceed to look it up. Even a site like Retro Junk works largely in this way. But what happens when no one's left to make the reference in the first place? I don't encounter many references these days to the outstanding comedy routines of the 1870s, for example. (Though, if I had to guess, I'd wager that there were some wickedly funny Civil War jokes to be had.)

Esquire's short review of Jonathan Franzen's upcoming Freedom was long on praise for the cojones the book's author displays in writing a big book, a book that attempts--according to the Esquire reviewer, who knows a surprising amount about Franzen's unspoken intentions--to join the canon of great literature. (To highlight this point, the header image features Freedom alongside works by Twain, Faulkner, DeLillo, Melville, and Fitzgerald.) The canon of American literature is notoriously fickle. If nothing else, I learned that in my last college literature class, on Melville and Ellison. I'm not sure what, exactly, Franzen will earn with acceptance to the above mentioned group, but if long-lasting notoriety is what he's shooting for, a big, serious novel seems to be the way to do it. Pop culture, no matter how popular, doesn't seem to last very long at all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Steve Earle, In Concert

Here is a partial but representative list of things I like because of The Wire: Honey Nut Cheerios, Tom Waits, Baltimore, Jameson, Idris Elba, nail guns, Gus Triandos, and, maybe most of all, Steve Earle.

I was first introduced to Earle as Bubbles' sponsor and was surprised to see him pop up on that episode of 30 Rock in which Jack holds the musical benefit for his father's kidney. Intrigued, I looked into this fellow from The Wire, and realized that he first became known for his music. That episode aired on May 14, 2009. I borrowed some music from Ariel, found a concert on NPR, went nuts on the Amazon MP3 page, and have been listening to Earle ever since. And on Thursday, August 5th, I saw Steve Earle in concert.

It was my first time seeing a concert on purpose. And, you know what, I kinda liked it. It definitely helped that I knew roughly three-quarters of the songs he played. I liked that there were seats to sit upon. (I'm not much of a dancer. The expectation of standing and dancing make me nervous; this would most likely dampen my enjoyment of the experience.) I liked the friendly strangers that sat next to me, one of whom asked me if I take drugs. (He responded with a terse "Good for you" when I informed him that I do not, in fact, take drugs. I did soon after, however, order another Jameson.) I liked that Earle opened with his cover of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," tying together another one of those things I like because of The Wire.

And, mostly, I liked the music. It put me in a reflective mood, reminiscing on the two years--nearly to the day--since my stint at Publishing Camp officially ended, most of which time (since that fateful episode of 30 Rock) has been spent with Steve Earle as my life's soundtrack.

I have some definite thoughts on these last twenty-four months, as I transitioned from student to employee, from a person enrolled in a set course of action to someone who needs to decide how I want to spend my time and live my life, from someone who hadn't really faced adversity to one who is slowly realizing that success--however you might want to define it--is not automatic.

But exposition of those thoughts will have to wait for a different time. For now, Copperhead Road:

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Evidence of Zippered Baseball Unis

Apparently Warren Spahn and the Boston Braves weren't the only ones who secured their uniform tops with the interlocking metal teeth better known as zippers. Here's the cover of Sports Illustrated last week:

Stan the Man zipped up his shirt. Why wouldn't these teams use buttons? Why did this stop? The mystery grows.

(Great article by Joe Posnanski about Musial, by the way.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Paragraph of the Week

From Pat Conroy's My Losing Season:

As a boy, I had constructed a shell for myself so impenetrable that I have been trying to write my way out of it for over thirty years, and even now I fear I have barely cracked its veneer. It is as rouged and polished and burnished as the specialized glass of telescopes, and it kept me hidden from the appraising eyes of the outside world long into manhood. But most of all it kept me hidden and safe from myself. No outsider I have ever met has struck me with the strangeness I encounter when I try to discover the deepest mysteries of the boy I once was. Several times in my life I have gone crazy, and I could not even begin to tell you why. The sadness collapses me from the inside out, and I have to follow the thing through until it finishes with me. It never happened to me when I was playing basketball because basketball was the only thing that granted me a complete and sublime congruence and oneness with the world. I found a joy, unrecapturable beyond the realm of speech or language, and I lost myself in the pure, dazzling majesty of my sweet, swift game.

I had a hard time settling on this particular paragraph because the 42 pages I've read from this book offered several candidates. The fourteen pages of prologue with which this book opens may be the best I've ever read.