Archive for June, 2010
I didn’t think I’d do a blog post this soon after the baby came. But I forgot that part of being a dad is finding ways to amuse yourself while your newborn sleeps off her milk coma and your wife sleeps off her regular coma-coma.
Fortunately solitary amusement is a core piece of the nerd skillset.
Halcyon Harriet Graham Grossman was born on Sunday morning, June 27, at dawn. She came in a big hurry — Sophie’s water broke at home, and the baby came about four hours later — which meant that I got to do the thing that all expectant fathers dream of, which is drive really fast through New York City in the middle of the night with my laboring wife in the back seat yelling at me to go faster.
My years of “wasted” time playing Midnight Club and Burnout paid off bigtime.
Though it turns out drifting round corners doesn’t give you a power boost in real life. And when I successfully completed the course my seven-year-old VW Passat station wagon was not upgraded to a fancy new car.
I did get a fancy new baby though.
So you know how there’s this idea of a singularity, a moment in human history where the rate of change accelerates non-linearly to the point where the whole world abruptly transforms into something unrecognizable?
Like the Industrial Revolution. Or when “they” invented agriculture. Or our imminent merger with our iPhones to form transcendent beings like Ray Kurzweil.
I was thinking about this with reference to literary history. Sometimes a book appears that by the sheer power and radical-ness of its ideas forcibly transforms how we think about and write all future books in that genre. Basically they bring about a literary singularity.
Like Jane Austen’s first (published) novel Sense and Sensibility. The more you study the early history of the modern novel, the more amazing it is how much contemporary fiction looks like Jane Austen novels, and how ancient everything that came before her looks.
When Austen arrived, everything changed. She was a Chicxulub-level event. But in a good way. She brought about a literary singularity.
More examples: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Possibly Chandler’s The Big Sleep. (I don’t really know, I’m crap on the history of crime novels.)
Or more recently: Watchmen for superhero comics. Neuromancer for science fiction.
What these books have in common is that they question the basic assumptions that underlie their genres. They’re like the little kid who asks: but why do people put on tights and beat up muggers? But what language do elves speak? What if we never found out who killed the chauffeur? If computers and prosthetics mimic the functions of the human mind and body, then what’s really the difference between people and machines? etc.
And paradoxically, instead of collapsing, the genre that has its assumptions questions in this way emerges stronger and faster, with enhanced senses, and cleaner, shinier hair.
Obviously that impression of sharp, instantaneous transformation is in part a historical illusion. Lesser-known works influenced and led up to these books, but we forget about them now. Ulysses would look less radical if anybody still read Édouard Dujardin, but they don’t. Moore warmed up a lot of the themes of Watchmen in Marvelman (a.k.a. Miracleman), but it was Watchmen that drove them home.
Still, it seems like there should be a word for this. I use “literary singularity” internally (internally = inside my brain) so I figured I’d try the idea out on you.
Done. Next post: more stories about drinking and failure!
I’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con this year. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, because 1) new baby, and 2) after last year I swore a mighty oath never to return, because I feel that Comic-Con contributes to the runaway commercialization and dilution of the nerd culture that is pretty much all I have by way of an ethnic identity.
Then they said, wanna be on a panel with Amber Benson? And I was all, sure.
Principles: I used to have them. But seriously, if you’re going to Comic-Con, come say hi. To Amber Benson. You can just nod at me in passing, I’ll understand.
Also: next week The Magicians moves up to number 10 on the Times bestseller list. Thank you everybody for making this happen. I could make a joke, but actually I can’t. I’m just so proud and happy.
A really good thing has happened. Remember a few days ago when I mentioned that I’d met a guy in Portland who was wearing a gorgeous home-brewed Brakebills t-shirt? That the guy next to him had made?
I heard from him — the guy who made it — and he agreed to put some up for sale. They’re here.
I’d never met this guy before. He is not a shirt-maker by profession (though he does have another shirt,which is also cool). God knows I have no financial investment in the sale of this shirt.
It’s just that when I saw it I thought, yeah, that’s what a Brakebills t-shirt looks like.
I’m not sure how long of a run this shirt is going to have, so don’t wait to grab one. I’m not going to. Plus they’re an automatic +8 to your nerd cred.
[p.s. the guy who does this has the enviably fake-sounding name of Zach Archer. He appears to be a developer of diverse interests, all of them really cool. Go to his site. You will lose an hour minimum to Space Kitty alone. To the Space Kitty theme song alone.]
In Snow Crash — one of Time magazine’s all-“Time” best 100 novels!!! — there are these characters called gargoyles, who are people who walk around with a computer and augmented-reality goggles and an always-on Internet connection, and they’re constantly hoovering up information and spewing it up onto the Net.
Everybody thinks they’re really uncool. And at one point one of them gets eviscerated with a blade made of glass.
(Stephenson mocks such people a second time in Anathem in the form of the dudes who carry jee-jahs.)
And yet I have essentially chosen to be one of them. I’m blogging and tweeting and Facebooking on top of the king-hell amount of e-mailing and magazine writing I was already doing. A lot of writers do. Instead of — or at any rate in addition to — building up lots of words and releasing them in big novel-sized chunks, we’re constantly dribbling them out. Like we’re the victim of some unfortunate literary prostate condition. I tell myself it all serves the fiction in one way or another, but the truth is I just like talking to people directly, w/out the intermediary of paper.
I already regret that last simile. About the prostate.
It feels like I’m resuming a cover identity that I had temporarily abandoned. Regular posting will continue. It will simply continue covertly.
That is the “reason” for my inserting a picture from Spy vs. Spy, a comic that used to horrify me with its cruelty, but which I nevertheless couldn’t look away from. I longed for one of the spies to finally triumph over the other, or for hostilities to cease, so they could be recalled to the state departments of their nameless countries, but it never happened …
Number of days it lasted: 18
Cities visited: 11
Xanax consumed: .25 mg. (That was the very first date, in LA. I’m done with Xanax. I’m dissociated from reality enough as it is. Maybe I should hold a giveaway for the rest of the bottle. Except that that’s probably a crime.)
Caffeine consumed: lots
Alcohol consumed: next question
I blog at you from downtown Minneapolis, stop number 13 out of 13 on this tour. I’m reading tonight at the Barnes & Noble in Roseville.
(I should be working on my book, but I got up at 5 this morning and therefore don’t have enough brain-energy-coupons to do real work.)
I’ve only been here a handful of times, but it’s where my father grew up, and where a lot of his side of the family still live. I don’t know much about my dad’s early life — he’s not a share-y kind of father in that way — but I think he was the first from his family to go to college. His father ran a local car dealership by the name of Grossman Chevrolet.
My father went away to Massachusetts for college. I don’t think he ever really lived in Minnesota again.
So my main memory of Minneapolis has nothing to do with my family. It’s this: In 2004 I came here to interview some political bloggers, and afterwards I went to a really good Italian restaurant where I had grappa for the first time.
That was memorable. Not unrelated: that was also the first (and last) time I told a waitress she reminded me of Gates McFadden. Sorry about that, wherever you are. But the resemblance really was uncanny.
I Googled the former family business, with the idea of maybe making a pilgrimage there. Not going to happen: looks like GM shut it down last year.
A man was wearing this at the reading at Powell’s last night:
I wanted to hug him. Then beat him senseless and take his shirt.
I thought so.
Point of interest: my six-month period as a punk (late 1992-early 1993) was not caused by my listening to actual punk music. It happened because I read Lipstick Traces, Marcus’s insanely great book about how punk was a natural outgrowth of the 20th century avant-garde movement that began with Tristan Tzara and Dada. In other words I found the theoretical foundation of punk so convincing I felt I had no choice but to become one.
I was a crap punk. But did that paradoxically make me even more punk?
No it did not.
I’m in Seattle today, reading at the great Elliott Bay Book Company. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, owing to Microsoft and Nintendo being here. Plus I’m drawn moth/flamewise to the psychic energy generated by the presence of the Penny Arcade/PvP collective.
Also to the Bloody Mary’s at the Edgewater, an otherwise crap bar rendered great by the view and the fact that the Beatles once stayed there.
Sorry, this is becoming episodic. I will close by saying: if you ever want a glimpse into the dark backward and abysm of your own musical taste, try sorting your iTunes music library by play count. The abyss will stare back and it will say: you’re not as cool as you thought you were.
Here’s what the abyss said to me. (more…)