Drew Toal

Has there ever been a good book about skateboarding? I was just watching Thrashin’ for the millionth time the other day, and thought, “Man, this story of Corey Webster and his one-man skate crusade against nemesis Hook (and his band of loyal Daggers) as they battle first at the joust and then at the big downhill,” would make for a riveting read. I had hopes for that When Skateboards Will Be Free book, but it turns out that it wasn’t really about siiiick Acid Drops at all. Disappointing.

Another dead person whose work I miss

Just let me sleep, woman!

Just let me sleep, woman!

So I’m making my way through this forthcoming Raymond Carver biography, and really enjoying reading it alongside Where I’m Calling From, the stories in which, I think, are arranged chronologically. It’s interesting to see how Carver’s ideas and fears manifest themselves on the page. I hadn’t read Carver for a few years, so most of the stories seem pretty fresh. Also, I’m really amused by his dialogue, which could’ve been taken from my own life. For instance, in “The Student’s Wife,” Carver writes:

“I’d like us both just to live a good honest life without having to worry about money and bills and things like that. You’re asleep,” she said.

“I’m not,” he said.

“I can’t think of anything else. You go now. Tell me what you’d like.”

“I don’t know. Lots of things,” he mumbled.

Well, tell me. We’re just talking, aren’t we?”

“I wish you’d leave me along, Nan.” He turned over to his side of the bed again and let his arm rest off the edge. She turned too and pressed against him.


“Jesus,” he said. Then: “All right. Let me stretch my legs a minute, then I’ll wake up.”

In a while she said, “Mike? Are you asleep?” She shook his shoulder gently, but there was no response.

I mean, who hasn’t been there? Sometimes I just want to sleep and dream of sexy female robots and stealing a car and driving it down to Miami and joining the Hurricanes (a team I don’t even like, which makes the dream weirder) and picking off not one but two errantly thrown passes over the middle and returning them for touchdowns against hated rival Notre Dame, and I guess just not waking up to talk about life and stuff. Too much to ask at this hour goddammit?

But this post actually wasn’t about Carver or my aborted dreams of football glory. It was about the late John Leonard, who died late last year from lung cancer at the age of 69. Leonard’s book review section in Harper’s was always the first thing I turned to when I’d get the magazine. Guy always had quirky, wide-ranging book choices, and his reviews were beautifully written in their own right. Benjamin Moser has since taken over for Leonard, and I’m just having a really hard time getting excited for his New Books findings. It’s just not rocking. Anyone have any favorite reviewers?

Behind the Scenes & Excerpts / 7 Comments
October 19th, 2009 / 11:26 am

And we have a winner…

If only Bush had been a little more horrible

If only Bush had been a little more horrible

And, no, it’s not Don D., or Roth. A German-Romanian Cruella De Vil lookalike took home the sort-of coveted literary prize, over some other writers who may possibly have deserved it more, despite not living and working under the thumb of a Romanian despot. But, hey, we can’t all be so lucky. Not to take anything away from Herta (sorry about the Cruella thing), but, uh, really? This is worse than that time in 1997 that Dario Fo won, an egregious event that I just read about last week and have been outraged by ever since. Politics? Art? Europeans intimidated by our raw American power and awesomeness? I feel like I need to write a strongly worded letter to someone, but the thing is is that baseball game is on in three hours, so I have to read some pregame analysis and be glad my national sport isn’t soccer, a game for cowards.

Boo, I say.

Author News / 103 Comments
October 8th, 2009 / 11:59 am

Not tonight, darling. I have to finish this John Vanbrugh play. And, uh, I have a headache

thegreathuntI imagine that I’m not the only one that carries around up to half a dozen books with them everywhere they go, at all times. I really hate having any kind of down time with nothing to read. Doctor’s office, in line at Walgreens, on my way to sell books at the Strand, less exciting moments in foreign movies I’m watching, or for when my lady friend is watching Top Chef. Whatever. One of the few I was lugging along on the train today—Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (which is pretty great so far, fyi)—had an interesting passage that got me to thinking about the previously unconsidered victims of my solipsistic and obsessive habits.

“You must have brought something. Books? I never saw you without a green bag of books.” To her mother she says, “He reads everywhere—in the subway, between the acts at plays, at intermissions in Symphony Hall, on picnics, on dates.

This speech conveys considerable information to Aunt Emily. She watches Sid’s eyes close in mock agony, while a really very engaging smile takes over from the sheepishness on his face. “Well, there’s so much to read, and I’m so far behind. Everybody’s read ten times more than I have.”

“What did you bring?” Charity asks. “Restoration dramas?”

“I’m taking a rest from those. I’ve just got some hole-fillers. Middlemarch, The Idiot, things like that, novels I should have read but haven’t.”

When is it okay to bring along books, and when is it not? Dinner parties? The bar? Bar Mitzvahs? Sporting events? Sporting events where your team sucks and them losing is a foregone conclusion but you still want to tacitly show your admittedly wavering support? Please advise.

Behind the Scenes & Power Quote / 31 Comments
October 6th, 2009 / 3:03 pm

My favorite book cover ever

That, friends, is a fucking cloud unicorn.

That, friends, is a fucking cloud unicorn.

Jacket art is an interesting thing. Besides blurbs, it’s one of the factors that most influences your casual, agendaless bookstore browser (as well as your rating on Jimmy Chen’s list, or so I like to believe). It is with this in mind that I’d like to share with you the greatest piece of cover art ever made. I came across this Kosygin-era collection of Ballard short stories last week while buying flannel in a thrift store, and I haven’t even really been able to get past the cover yet to start reading the stories. Besides the cumulo nimbus unicorn and rose and torso-less cloud lady, there is also a jauntily colored glider flitting around that mighty rock formation to the right. Directly underneath that monolith is what looks like some kind of Dodge Dart that probably gets 13 miles to the gallon and two people talking, probably about the Jets and their improbable 3-0 start (Ballard was something of a futurist, after all). Actually, you probably can’t see that part, due to the poor quality of my photography skills. How does it all tie together? Knowing Ballard, probably with the unicorn partially dismembered and violated.

JGB: Gone too soon.

Behind the Scenes / 17 Comments
October 2nd, 2009 / 6:35 pm

Banned Books Week

Jim_and_ghost_huck_finnIt’s finally here, and I’m ashamed to say that, of the top ten most challenged books in 2008, I have only read one (some Scary Stories book I got off the Bookmobile when I was a child which, while it maybe should not be banned, did haunt my dreams for many years with its tales of chicks whose heads fell off when they undid their scarves). But we all know books are dangerous, and can warp fragile, gelatinous minds with their subversive ideas. The thing is, by forbidding access to something, you’re only going to give it that much more power to smite the reactionary forces of good (evil). Like, I’d be upset if someone banned Going Rogue, because that thing is going to be awesome for everyone. However, if you did have the power to ban one book for all eternity though, which would you pick?

Random / 12 Comments
September 29th, 2009 / 5:19 pm

R.L. Stine in the house

Jovial Bob!

Jovial Bob!

Around this time last year, I was assigned a story for work that involved me checking out local haunted houses and evaluating their various levels of scarytude. Easy enough. There was a wrinkle, though. I was to have a pair of dauntless companions—in this case, beloved Goosebumps author R.L. “Jovial Bob” Stine and Peter Gilmore, current high priest of the Church of Satan (you really can’t make this stuff up).

The other day, I came across some Goosebumps-related Internet ephemera, and realized that I still had R.L. Stine’s email address, which I then used. Stine, author of a bazillion books and a known Wodehouse enthusiast, was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.

I remember when you and I went out Haunted Housing last year, that you mentioned loving the Kindle? Could you briefly talk about how that happened? Doesn’t it feel kind of blasphemous?

I don’t think it’s blasphemous at all. I think the object is to get people reading. Does it really matter what package or device they use to read? This isn’t mine—I forget where I saw it. But someone wrote: What if we’d been using the Kindle for the past 300 years, and some guy came along with a new thing he invented, called a book. We’d laugh at him. We’d say:  “But it only has one story!” “You can’t change the type size!” “You can’t download any more stories into it!” “It’s too heavy to carry!”
I still prefer a book, but the eReaders have a lot to recommend them, especially if they catch on with young people.

Presumably, then, you’re comfortable with technology. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t see R.L. Stine iphone apps coming. How’d that happen?

I think I was one of the first children’s authors to do an online chat, back when it was hard to do, and maybe six kids would show up. I’ve always loved messing around with technology. But I also think it’s important to go where the kids are. My web site—rlstine.com—has all kinds of fun stuff to get readers involved. And my new iPhone app— R.L. Stine’s Haunted House of Sound—seemed like a really fun way to reach my readers.

Here at HTML Giant, we style ourselves as the “internet literature magazine blog of the future.” Is this how you pictured the internet literature magazine blog of the future?

I have to admit I never pictured the internet literature magazine blog of the future until I checked out HTML Giant. Reading through the blog was kind of like being on Mars. All these authors I didn’t know! A lot of it seemed to be from a different planet, which of course, is why it’s so enjoyable.

How’d you stay so prolific over the years? Has your approach to writing varied in that time?

I don’t think I can quit. I wouldn’t know what else to do all day! I don’t think my approach to writing has changed at all. Someone described writing as an “addiction,” and in my case, I’m pretty sure it’s true!

Author News & Technology / 45 Comments
September 24th, 2009 / 1:41 pm

Sweet list

edge-of-the-seaI’m usually pretty suspicious of anything bearing the label ‘insider’. They lure you in with the promise of forbidden knowledge and the hope that, one day, you yourself can be one of the select few keepers of the evertindered Promethean Zippo. The other day I came across such a guide put out by some merry band called Fang Duff Kahn. Edited by Mark Strand, this fanny pack-sized volume has suggestions from various book sellers, publishers, poets and authors for off-the-radar books that they think are worth sharing with us. There are some pretty obscure choices in here, and not a few small-press selections. Apparently, proceeds from Books: The Essential Insider’s Guide also go to First Book, a group who buys words for children in low-income families, which is rad. It’s a good, if random, source of new stuff to read (especially if you’re tired of looking on your own backlogged list of books that you’ve been meaning to buy but haven’t got around to buying for a few years).

If you could name-drop just one favorite “forgotten, underappreciated, or little-known work of literature,” what would it be and why?

Random / 11 Comments
September 23rd, 2009 / 2:00 pm

Nobody gets Bradbury like Stephen Colbert.

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