If by some chance you came here by some route other than my Paris Review Culture Diary (which is hard to imagine), you should know that last week I had the privilege of keeping a record of the culture I consumed for the excellent Paris Review Daily blog, the results of which appear this week in two parts.
"Diary of a Complacent Voluptuary": that's what I thought when I reread my entries just after sending them off to Thessaly, the proprietor of the blog, on Monday. (I also thought, hey, Complacent Voluptuary: that's a pretty good name for a blog. Too bad I'm already committed to the Firmament.) But really, that's what I did all week, just idly consume and reflect upon these tidbits of culture, like so many bon-bons? I guess that's what the format leads you to, but it looks even more frivolous when placed next to yesterday's interview on the blog with Chris Adrian, who not only is a fellow in pediatric hematology-oncology but is driven to write (by all accounts excellent) novels by the pain he sees his patients and families go through. And I write, 'cause why? Nothing so articulable or defensible, but I guess out of the faith that I'll get to a place that means as much to me. Or that I'll get some laughs.
Nevertheless, those diary entries are indeed more or less how I spent last week, though you'll notice from the time stamps that there are plenty of gaps between entries, which I spent, among other things, eating bad pizza and good pizza; sleeping (too little) at night and nodding off (too often and too publicly) during the day; trying to make pretend people do pretend things 97 years ago; calling Little Leaguers out at first; folding laundry and washing dishes; drinking Manhattans (or, rather, one giant Manhattan--thanks, Dave) with old colleagues; reading stuff online that wasn't interesting enough to write about; reading funny emails from friends that were too insider-y to write about; and, of course, writing up my day's activities for the diary.
There were also a few entries that I ended up cutting to meet the diary's suggested length. The diary benefited from the tightening, but what's the point of having a blog of your own if you can't spill whatever mess you please all over it? So here are the deleted scenes, as it were, from the final cut (which, as any DVD watcher knows, are never quite as good as the undeleted ones):
8:30 A.M. Now that I don't, in theory, spend all day (and much of the night) online anymore, I try to cram email and the Web into the corners of the day, e.g. over my breakfast, which used to be magazine time. Today, after flurries of email freakout from my scattered hometown friends about the University of Maryland basketball coaching vacancy, I have just enough time to watch Kristen Wiig as Michele Bachmann--"America, I challenge you to a staring contest, and it begins ... now"--steal the show in the SNL GOP debate clip from this weekend, before walking my son to school.
11:30 A.M. Catch up with Malcolm Gladwell's NYer review of Ugly Beauty, Ruth Brandon's dual biography of Helena Rubinstein and Eugene Schueller, the founder of L'Oreal. I know nothing about these people or their business, but I'm drawn in. Why aren't there more dual biographies, to loosen the straightjacket of the traditional single life? I think (not for the first time) about pitching a triple bio of my own on obsessive, mop-headed competitors from the '70s: Bobby Fischer, Pete Maravich, and Jimmy Connors.
9:50 A.M. Read (via Mark Athitakis, a favorite source for well-curated literary links) a Rumpus interview with Edward P. Jones, whose reluctant stories about himself are as much as source of wonder as his fiction. He lives so intensely within his own head and his senses of the past and of the streets of Washington, D.C., and he could care less about the literary life of publicity and competition. Of most practical interest: the way he talks about working out his stories in his head for years before he puts them on paper (if he ever does). I work (so far at least) in an entirely different way: my characters hardly exist until they speak and act on the page (and even then...).
2:47 P.M. My former colleague and dear friend Brad emails some advance page spreads from the front matter for his upcoming book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, including a photographic dedication page to his dad that may be the most endearing I've seen since Franny and Zooey. I've been in the book business for a while, but this is the first I've really seen of the pre-publication process for a book from the author's side. One of many reasons to look forward to the final product is a rumored drink recipe called the "Tipsy Nissley."
12:45 A.M. On the recommendation of my architect/printmaker sister, who listens to a lot more podcasts than I do while she works, I stream Bill Simmons's recent chat with ex-BYU/Celtics player Michael Smith. Good stuff on everything from Mormonism to Simmons's freakish recall of Celts games from 20 years ago (Smith: "I can't believe you remember all this stuff about us!") to Smith's legendary status (who knew?) as perhaps the greatest HORSE player of all time, and how pissed off Larry Bird was when he got beat by Smith as a rookie. I'm proud, though, that I am able to turn this 77-minute (!) interview off halfway through and go to bed.
9:30 A.M. I don't sit down with the Sunday Times. Having grown up with a full-on crush on my hometown Washington Post, I would never have expected this, but I haven't taken a paper at home for almost 20 years, which dates back even before the news started to come in through my data implants. But this spring I tried to make the Pavlovian response to the new NYT paywall and subscribe to the Sunday print edition, only to find that the algorithm back at Times HQ has determined that my zip code is only eligible for Weekend Only, not Sunday Only delivery. Back to the laptop...
8:30 P.M. Back in the Jukebox. I try to dig up some background on Silas Leachman, who has another version of "All Goin' Out and Nothin' Comin' In" in the Jukebox, and who the archive says was a "Chicago politician" who "specialized in what were called 'coon songs.'" (What a career combination.) To be honest, to my untutored ears in turn-of-the-century ethnicity his attempted black accent sounds more Irish or Yiddish (as if you could pin any of those down exactly anyway), but that's part of what's so crazy about these records, like the guy who trills his R's while carefully enunciating the "dems" of a black dialect song. I can't find much more on Leachman, but I do end up at a smart music-history blog called Locust St. that looks like it petered out last year and has no apparent information about the writer. Who is this mysterious person? (Further investigation reveals at least that the writer is Chris O'Leary and that he (or she) is now fully immersed in the land of David Bowie at Pushing Ahead of the Dame).
P.S. I keep wanting to credit my sister Elinor for the photo above, but in truth I was the photographer, by the usual definition at least. But the camera, as well as the forearm tendons, are hers. As a few patient folks are very familiar with by now, the viewfinder of her Hasselblad is pretty much my favorite photographic subject (or medium) on the planet.