Saturday, May 07, 2005
Jean Merrill's The Toothpaste Millionaire, another formative influence on yours truly, discovered one day in the Caulfeild Elementary school library. The equivalent of stumbling upon the Berkshire Hathaway Owner's Manual in second grade.

Unkindly but not inaccurately reviewed by Germantown Academy 5th Grade Super Reader John B.:

"This story is about a guy named Rufus. He starts to make a toothpaste business because he knows he will use math a lot in the business and Rufus is always good at math! He starts the business and sells the toothpaste at a very low price and before you know it, he's a millionaire. Everybody is buying Rufus' toothpaste because people realize the price of toothpaste in stores costs so much more then Rufus' toothpaste. He becomes very rich and famous but at the end of the book, he gives up and decides to retire and give the job over to his working buddy, Hector.

If I give this book a rating from 1 to 10, I would probably give it a 4 or 5. I really feel that it was not exciting at all. It was just boring!

I would not recommend this book to those who like exciting books. If you don't like exciting books and you like books where there is not much action then this would be the book for you!"

The Mad Scientists' Club of Mammoth Falls -- another children's series much beloved by dru and I, recalled to me today by my ultrasound technician. I've only read two of these (eg., both copies in the West Van Memorial Library), and was more than a little surprised to discover that more of them exist.
If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home Now

PHONE: Ring, ring.

CJB: Pulpfiction Books.

LONG DISTANCE CALLER: I'm calling about a book on your website.

CJB: Yes, which one is that?

LDC: [Monograph] by [artist name]. How much is it to ship to New York City, overnight?

CJB: Probably a lot. Let me find the book, weigh it, and call you back. What's your phone number?

LDC: 212-555-1234. But I need to know right now!

CJB: We have 3000-odd books online. I don't know where this one is, nor how much it weighs. Let me find it and call you back.

LDC: That's not good enough!

CJB (patience evaporating): Look, if you're desperate enough to be ordering this from me and not some sharpie New York dealer, a ten-minute wait isn't going to kill you.

LDC: With an attitude like that, you should be selling books here!

CJB: I wish I was, believe me.
Matt Stichnoth gets the goods on the Berkshire Hathaway 2005 Annual Meeting

"WARREN BUFFETT: Social Security was introduced in 1936-37. It was proposed as an insurance program as a way to get it passed. Transfer payments didn’t fly then. But Social Security is a transfer of wealth from productive people to non-productive people. I believe that anything that reduces Social Security payments below their current levels is a mistake.

Not everyone is wired the same way. Someone with an 85 IQ won’t do as well as someone who’s a genius. The Social Security system provides a minimum level of benefit to everyone, as long as they’ve worked.

There are a lot of ways to save, such as 401ks and IRAs. The way I’m wired, I wouldn’t have done as well if I’d been born in Bangladesh. People who’ve done well have an obligation to help those who haven’t. One thing to do would be to raise the payroll tax cap from $90,000. I wouldn’t want to do anything that might hurt the bottom 20%-30%. I don’t understand why the administration worries about the size of the deficit on 25 years when it doesn’t seem to care much about the size of the deficit now."

Someone writes to ask, "Which of Philip K. Dick's novels would you recommend?", adding, "I don't read a lot of science fiction."

A Scanner Darkly

Radio Free Albemuth

The Man in the High Castle

In Milton Lumky Territory

The Dark-Haired Girl

Puttering About in a Small Land

The Broken Bubble

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

Humpty Dumpty in Oakland


Divine Invasions,
Lawrence Sutin's excellent biography

This list includes some pretty obscure books. Ubik, Man, and Scanner are all in print as Vintage trade paperbacks. Radio Free Albemuth is a $10-15 pocket book from the used bookseller of your choice. The others are seriously OP and expensive when you do find them, but I'm not recommending them as a book dealer or collector, but as a reader. By and large these are "mainstream" -- non-SF -- novels unpublished during Dick's lifetime, unique in their tart appraisal of West Coast life in the late 1950s and 1960s. I'd put Milton Lumky and The Dark-Haired Girl up there with John Updike's Rabbit books in terms of their influence on me, definitive proof that literary realism is a pretty big yard to play in.

Striking a Blow for Complexity


I received email from [EDITOR] at [INTERNATIONAL ART MAGAZINE].

Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to review the exhibition for them. Their word limit is firm at 400 words, which is more of a glorified blurb than a review, and, in my judgement, more than a little embarrassing for a multi artist group exhibition. This is less space than that provided for a single artist show in the Georgia Straight, which itself is not exactly October magazine.

I hope that I will have the opportunity to write about exhibitions at [LOCAL ART EXHIBITION SPACE] at more length in the near future, and that you will continue to send me notices of upcoming exhibitions. But, after several unhappy experiences writing bad, forgettable "blurb reviews" for folks like Art on Paper and Canadian Art, I've come to conclude that I despise the format, and I'm not going to do it any more. 400 words on 4 or more artists is like a sweater on a poodle; both dog and onlookers are embarrassed.

Best, CJB."
Friday, May 06, 2005
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K. Dick, my favorite novel of all time. Soon to be ruined beyond all repair by Richard Linklater's animated movie. Just found my well-worn Vintage Books trade paperback, hunting through the middens on my desk for the ultrasound clinic's address on Victoria Drive.

Dick wrote his share of hastily conceived and churned-out novels (The Crack in Space; Deus Irae, & etc.), but this heartbreaking book isn't one of them. A year or two ago, I gave a 45 minute talk on Dick at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (sadly unrecorded) as part of a panel on his work. I don't recall much of what I said, but I do remember being more lucid than usual, and claiming that Dick's use of commas was the single most important aspect of his work, with each comma signifying a slight conceptual or ontological shift in the track of a sentence. I still believe that; I learned a lot about language's inherent simplicity by reading Mr. Philip Kindred Dick.

From Scanner, a passage chosen by the random fall of pages:

"The surveillance, he thought, essentially should be maintained. And, if possible, by me. I should always be watching, watching and figuring out, even if I never do anything about what I see; even if I just sit there and observe silently, not seen: that is important, that I as a watcher of all that happens should be at my place.

Not for their sake. For mine.

Yeah, he amended, for theirs too. In case something happens, like when Luckman choked. If someone is watching -- if I am watching -- I can notice and get help. Phone for help. Bring assistance to them right away, the right kind.

Otherwise, he thought, they could die and no one would be the wiser. Know or even fucking care.

In wretched little lives like that, someone must intervene. Or at least mark their sad comings and goings. Mark and if possible permanently record, so they'll be remembered. For a better day, later on, when people will understand."
Thursday, May 05, 2005

Adam Harrison, Selbstportrait im Gerhard Richter's 7 Stehende Scheiben. From the 365 Sketches. Posted by Hello
A quiet day in the shop; I stood at the till and wrote the remaining 20-odd pages of Michelina in one gigantic push. Memories of university, page after page of longhand, my already creaky handwriting seriously slanted at the end.

The oldest fiction writer's workshop cliche in the world is the idea that "your characters will surprise you." Stephen King, in his excellent memoir On Writing, likens writing to digging up a fossil; you're never sure if you're going to excavate a wishbone or a tyrannosaur's hipbone. These last few days I feel like I've excavated a small house, a place which, apparently, I've been carrying around in my subconscious for months. So, yes, there are places where the characters surprised me, especially Michelina, and her resourcefulness in the face of a narrative which began as an illustrated picture book, of all things, then grew progressively more violent, expressionistic, and strange.

The last piece of fiction I actually completed was a not terribly well structured story called East Pacific Rise, which was promptly rejected by On Spec magazine, who had previously published a much less well written, but better structured story called Making History. I was still living in Kitsilano in my alley apartment, and working on my old kitchen table 386, so this would have been...1994? 1995? Long enough, at any rate, to consider the story-making mechanism in my head permanently broken, and to move on to art criticism, curating, and entrepreneurship. Part of the problem was peristent deep depression; that and the dumb belief that plot was subordinate to style, and that prose lines had to be worked like lines of lyric poetry, till they sang and sounded like Cormac McCarthy. Or Thomas Pynchon. Or Faulkner.

Those writers still retain a hold on me -- I can quote whole paragraphs of Gravity's Rainbow from memory, and not the funny stuff you'd expect, the limericks and off-color jokes, but the quieter passages, the descriptions of wartime London, or the men and women singing all across snowy England on Christmas Eve -- but somewhere along the line I started paying attention to a subtler kind of literary modernism -- first John Updike's Rabbit books, then Henry Green -- that achieves the same kind of stylistic innovation I admire in Pynchon and Faulkner, but without the thick veneer of symbolism and allusion. And read, again, writers I'd admired in childhood, Tove Jansson, Roald Dahl, and Robert Arthur (creator of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, which I devoured religiously as an elementary school kid) among them.

So: off to transcribe, and to edit. Dry spell snapped. Back soon.

Unsettled air yesterday at twilight, the western sky apocalyptic from the Royal Oak Skytrain platform, all black, massed thunderheads shot through with neon-pink veins, a sight no one would ever accept if submitted to judgement as a painting or photograph. Out drifting from cafe to cafe, 500 words in longhand in each. Earlier, through Mountain View Cemetery, rain threatening, crows circling and calling overhead, and red carnations bright against the long unmowed grass beside the graves. I was thinking -- still am, I guess -- of The Flooded Grave, and the way a skirt will crease, kneeling, and how that gesture pivots the body in space. The bus runs up Fraser Street, and I could hear the twang of the trolley wires as I walked. I imagined a young woman, maybe an office worker on Howe Street, buying flowers on her way home to her South Vancouver apartment, and stopping to place them on someone's grave. I don't know who that person is yet, or why her gesture's important, but it's an image I like, and I may try to do something with it.

The real surprise, though, was a long passage in Greil Marcus' Like a Rolling Stone, opened completely at random in Chapters Metrotown (in a vain attempt to reconvince myself that Mr. M. was neither memorable nor important, and that I therefore didn't have to bother reading him), on the Pet Shop Boys' remake of the Village People's stomping disco anthem, Go West. I wish I could quote this whole remarkable 1500-word passage at length, but a sentence or two will have to do: "As you listen, you hear history tearing the song to pieces - but the song will not surrender its body. At five minutes it seems to go on forever."Posted by Hello
Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A long grinding workday finally wound down, and a yellow legal pad exhausted, right hand cramped & spasming from the blue Bic stickpen permanently clenched between my fingers. Scouting in the suburbs or a late night widescreen b-movie? Hmm...

Off to Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, a visually generous film with a good heart, which effortlessly quotes from Leone, the Matrix, Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote shorts, and zillions of other genre references I didn't catch. Physics and other earthly laws are violated so early and often that it's impossible to predict what's coming next. A Chinese harp that launches CGI daggers and screaming flying zombies at its foes; a secret kung-fu style that punches huge, Godzilla-style handprints into buildings; an unlikely blue collar couple who turn out to be the Bernd and Hilla Becher of the kung-fu world, & etc.

SGB and I kept punching each other on the shoulder the whole way through, pointing out favorite details.

"The hustle is a kind of dance." Posted by Hello
Monday, May 02, 2005
Hentai Origami -- Japanese anime porn ("hentai") meets Murakami-style superflat. These ingenious constructions don't tweak me the way, say, Louise Brooks' hairdo does, but they were still good for fifteen minutes or so of careful study. Check out the little orange robot with the wheel-of-Gouda head way down at the bottom of the page!
Into the home stretch on Michelina, only another 30 or 35 pages ( 4 or 5 days' work) to go and the first draft will finally be complete.

Local Award Winning Illustrated Kids' Book Publisher was in this afternoon to take reorders for the books we're sold out of, and to ask after the potentially figmentary manuscript. "Nearly done," I lied, dropping an elbow across the blizzard of yellow newsprint pages scattered beside the cash register, hoping he wouldn't look down.
Insert in My Obituary, Please

"When cornered & believably threatened, scream & strike out with all the anger & intelligence you can imagine."

-Kevin Davies, Pause Button
Sunday, May 01, 2005
Illustrated Children's Books Online -- lots to see at this slow to load but incredibly dense site.

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