Did You Hear? Wrong or Right

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

A great song with a terrific music video: I haven’t been able to get this melody out of my head for about a week now. When you throw that voice over a tasteful combination of R+B and electronica anything, it’s an addictive combination. This is the kind of song that demands your attention, and possibly turns you into a dancing zombie. So pay attention!

- Brook Reeder

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I Am a Natural Wonder

Old Golds

I grew a mustache way too early and happily combed its delicate length every morning before school. The other children looked on in admiration, their lunch trays heavy with stiff Salisbury steaks and the bloated deliciousness of Hostess cherry fruit pies.

Samantha never seemed to notice. It was Samantha I wished to impress.

I once cricked my neck admiring her. Well worth it, well worth it! Had to stay home for a day. My nose bled as usual so I fed it to the cat, which lapped the blood up greedily from my lips. In the shower I cried, but from elation you understand! For breakfast I microwaved a croissant and jacked it open with a finger until the hole was big enough to wiggle my tongue into.

My mother spent the afternoon guzzling pork-slap and slathering mayo on warm white bread. My father drove through town looking desperately for lumber. I sat swaddled in a blue sheet watching The Price is Right, twisting the corners of my mustache, and thinking of Samantha.

After a while the crick wore off and I walked to the Piggly Wiggly to troll the aisles for a snack.

Outside, a black-fisted giant poked a long finger into the open mouth of a gumball machine. Something was lodged in the way. His daughter straddled a stationary galloping horse with fire painted in its eyes.

Inside I bought a jar of pearl onions from a cashier who stared directly down into the trellis of my mustache.

At home my big brother smoked Old Golds wearing his thick-skinned deer gloves. He was always reading some book called Desert Tooth. His mustache was twice as long as mine, but he was twice as old. He had a date with a Chinese girl. I asked him again what he was reading and he reached deep into his mouth with his fingers and threw gum at me.

The phone rang out and I stumbled into the kitchen. It was Samantha. Could I go swimming in Old Blue with balloons in our underwear to keep us afloat?

Certainly, I said.

The Observable Characteristics of Organisms

- Ryan MacDonald is a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he received an MFA in English and an MFA in studio art. His solo and collaborative work has been exhibited or performed at Foundain Studios, New York Live Arts, The Continental Review, Flying Object, and St. Mark’s Church, and elsewhere.

Copyright © 2014 by Ryan MacDonald from The Observable Characteristics of Organisms. Reprinted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.

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Feeling Tentatively Optimistic

IMG_6311

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Good news, feminists! Not all hope is lost! Pick up a copy of this slim book and carry it with you to be reminded that yes, really, yes, things might get better one day!

Just look! A book by a woman whose cover shows nothing but a bold white typeface on a blue background – no soft-focus photograph of laundry on a clothesline in a field of wildflowers, no black high heels, no pink font, no cursive, none of that shit. Not even a picture of Solnit with her long, lovely hair and some sexy, smoldering look in her eye. We’ve come so far!

At least, that is the impression I got after finishing Men Explain Things to Me.

But, wait, don’t get me wrong. Solnit’s essays are depressing as hell.

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Did You Hear? God Only Knows

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

One thing I really like about British culture is their penchant for understatement. “Keep it simple, stupid,” as the Queen always says. “Don’t over-embellish, and never ever use 33 celebrities and groups when 32 will do.” In this new production by BBC Music, the Brits really focus in on the bare essentials of this genuinely amazing song, without adding anything unnecessary.

And before I go, you know another great thing the Brits do well? Sarcasm.

My favorite moment is about 3/4 of the way through, when the whole thing is starting to make sense with its own internal logic, and then Dave Grohl just casually shows up in the clouds for about 3 seconds like some hipster Norse god. And yes, there is a precedent for this

- Brook Reeder

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The Interior Circuit by Francisco Goldman

The Interior Circuit

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Beheadings: The Original American Ghost Story

image by Bastien Grivet

image by Bastien Grivet

The new Penguin edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales doesn’t come right out and say it, so I’ll say it: Washington Irving is America’s Tolkien.

If you Google the phrase “America’s Tolkien” you’ll find a bunch of references to George R.R. Martin. Those references are wrong. Writing a hugely successful epic that involves swords and legends and fantastical beasts while you happen to be an American citizen does not make you America’s Tolkien. What makes you America’s Tolkien is… you’ll see.

Even though he is best remembered for only two short stories—“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—Washington Irving almost singlehandedly put the “American” in American literature. By making a careful study of his own neighbors—common people of mostly Dutch descent, living in farming hamlets along the Hudson River or down in the new borough of Manhattan—Irving turned the denizens of our new nation into literary types, familiar people with distinctly American characteristics. He was fascinated by the Revolutionary War, which was still a recent memory, and by the widening rift—an ocean, you might say—between the cultures of England and America. With his stories, essays, and literary “sketches,” Irving reached into a richly imagined, hyper-local American past, and created the first stirrings of our national mythology.

More than a century later, Tolkien did the same for Britain, weaving Norse and Germanic myths into a distinctly British tapestry. Both Irving and Tolkien had a particular vision of their nation’s character, and they used old-seeming stories to grandfather them in. Embedding these visions in an imagined past allowed the stories to become part of the nation’s shared memory. In her introduction to the new edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories, Elizabeth L. Bradley makes a convincing case that without Washington Irving, we would not have Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Whitman, Twain, or Thurber. We would not have the Hudson River School of painters or the New York Knicks. We would not understand Harry Potter, Planet of the Apes, or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in quite the same way.

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Did You Hear? Cold Blooded

New music! Sometimes old music. Music that we love!

I suppose it’s impossible to talk about this song without referring to R.E.M., but it’s a solid rock song with great layering of parts. I love songs that delay the cadence until after the downbeat, and this song builds up a great expectation for a crashing climax only to stretch it out for another two beats on you. Quit messing with my head, man!

- Brook Reeder

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HITTING SHELVES #12: Man V. Nature by Diane Cook

Man v. Nature

Man V. Nature by Diane Cook comes out today!

It’s one of the most anticipated books of the season: a debut collection of impossible, all-too-believable stories about baby snatchers, a forest of lost boys, and a flood at the end of the world. In “The Mast Year,” a woman experiences the same kind of boom harvest that certain trees do, when they grow fat with more fruit and nuts than usual–but in her case, it takes the form of a promotion, great sex, and hordes of people camped out on her front lawn like woodland creatures, desperate to gorge on her incredible luck. You can read “Marrying Up” for free at Guernica, and “Girl on Girl” here at Granta. Either one will make Diane Cook one of your new favorite writers.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Man V. Nature?

Diane Cook: I think I’ll go for a hike in the morning because I like doing that. My husband and I just moved to the Bay Area. We had lived in Brooklyn for ten years. I always wanted to live in a place where I could get outside whenever I wanted, walk in the woods. Brooklyn was not that place. Here, I have wonderful parks and hiking 15 minutes away and I don’t even have to get on a highway. But I think I’ll go the extra distance to somewhere really special. Somewhere just far enough away that it feels like a special occasion. Probably Point Reyes. I’ll do my usual hikey things–look at stuff, get short of breath, think about things. Then, back at home, if I’ve got my head on straight I’ll try to write this essay I said I’d write. If I don’t, I’ll walk a circuit between my kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, pick up something with the idea that I’m cleaning, then put it back down, accomplishing nothing. Then I’ll head to The Booksmith in San Francisco for my reading and book party. I’ll be nervous because I’ve never been the reason for an event before and I’ll worry that no one will come. But people will be there and it’ll be fun. Then, hopefully, old friends and new friends will have a drink with me. Then my husband and I will take an Uber or cab back because BART will have stopped running, and we’ll sleep. Continue reading

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