Exhibit 11.10

On Editing a Novel #7

TURNING YOUR NOVEL INTO A BOOK OF POETRY. It's likely that you've come to the conclusion that your novel just isn't working out. If that's the case, it's time to take the necessary steps to exploit the lucrative and rewarding world of poetry. Many of your smarter friends' favorite books of poetry are actually novels converted into verse. For example, everything Robert Creeley wrote was originally intended to be about globe-trotting mercenaries. When he just couldn't make his technothrillers set in a erotic hellscapes work, he'd delete words until he passed out drunk. This is called poetry.

Let's take a look at how his unpublished novel South American Murder Trail became the poem "America" through the deletion of a few choice words:

South American Murder Trail -> "America"

"It's not South America! It's a code for subverting reality!" ->
America, you ode for reality!

"Give back the people you took!" ->
Give back the people you took.

"We can't let the son kill her! Shine light in his eyes! Well, do it again." ->
Let the sun shine again

"I've killed children on all the four corners of the world." ->
on the four corners of the world

"You thought of it first, but do not be so sure we won't discover the Camarillo Axiom." ->
you thought of first but do not

We're on our own. Or are we? Let's keep quiet like the mutes even if it's an inconvenience." ->
own, or keep like a convenience.

"People are your own responsibility. You gave your word, Mendoza! You did!" ->
People are your own word, you

"There's not a weapon invented that can kill locusts. And it's a problem. What kind of problem? Long-term." ->
invented that locus and term.

"The crystal is here you said? And, say, is that voodoo?" ->
Here, you said and say, is

"Where we are, no ones going to give love back. Probably." ->
where we are. Give back

"What was that? Guerillas or gorillas? We are screwed. So are these people. Your travel agent made a big mistake." ->
what we are, these people you made,

"I believe in us. And there's nowhere for me but where you are...um...to be. I could have said that better." ->
us, and nowhere but you to be.

What was clunky and even highly contrived dialogue is thus turned into a beautiful meditation on what America has lost in both people and spirit by fighting wars. Creeley isn't the only failed novelist turned poet. John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror was originally Battlestar Galactica fan fiction, for one.

Through careful deletion, you too can be Poet Laureate.



Exhibit 11.9

A visual representation of what it's like to watch Mama Mia! with the role of Trapped, Horrified Audience Member being played by Brett:

Don't ask how I know. Just assume someone told me. Someone you and I don't like.

By the way, Brett is three today. Also, she has plans for a musical featuring the work of Saigon Kick. So there's that.


Exhibit 11.8

Nebraska-related errors I was able to spot in the first 50 pages of Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant:

1. Alliance is not on the interstate

Okay, so that's it. I know it's a small thing, but how hard is it to open up Google Maps or visit the absolutely awesome Alliance Chamber of Commerce website?

(By the way, compare that to the North Platte Chamber of Commerce website. That town. Jesus. It's over twice as big as Alliance yet its website looks like it was designed by Adam Peterson circa 1997. Apparently the designer was too busy solving the mystery of the missing pot to finish that MS FrontPage night class he signed up for. At least it's not a Geocities page, I guess.

Even poor Dr. Boettcher, whose dental service ad bizarrely aims for "sexy," gets screwed over because his link doesn't work. My two experiences with Dr. Boettcher:

1. He was once my AYSO soccer coach
2. I once, years later, played shuffleboard at his house

Thus ends this completely arbitrary parenthetical.)

Anyway, The Magician's Assistant was our book club pick this month and no one seemed too into it, myself included. It's hard when someone is writing about your state when it's clear that they've never actually been to it. I didn't actually get far enough to see what happens when the protagonist actually goes to Nebraska, but I was assured by others that it wasn't pretty. Apparently the message is that everyone in Alliance rides their horses down the interstate to the barn dance and then they all eat apple pie while the women birth their babies and the men watch stoically in tight Wranglers before mending fence until dawn. Or something.

I'm very glad that I was able to put off reading this book long enough to not actually have to finish it. My book club pick is next, and barring unforeseen library shortages, I've settled on Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping.

You should read along.


Exhibit 11.7

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

The best thing I can say about the book is that the author's talent and intelligence is so apparent on every page that even though I didn't particularly like it--and at times loathed it intensely--I would not at all hesitate to pick up Pessl's next book. Some first novels read as culminations of every story, love, and simile an author has available to them, removing any need to read the next and the next and the next increasingly disappointing book. Others, like this one, seem to be the tortured beginning of something greater.

I don't really want to get into the specifics of what I found problematic about the book, mostly because doing so would necessarily contain spoilers. I will say that it's the sort of novel where 400 pages into a 500 page book the story becomes something completely different, rendering the somewhat tedious previous explorations of an ultimately unimportant social scene useless. The sort of book where every character is unlikeable yet unchanging. The sort of book where a character literally makes one phone call and the person who answers gladly sends her the solution to the mystery. The sort of book that ends with a character taking a heartbreaking action which they would never take if for no other reason than that it solves none of their problems. The sort of book where anyone paying attention can immediately identify at least 8 reasons why the plot makes no sense (#4: Knowing all the connections, why did they move to the town at all?). The sort of book with an awesome title made silly because it is completely arbitrary.

(I mean, there's not even a little Calamity Physics here. What the hell? I came for the Calamity Physics).

Despite these failings, it does become completely gripping in its jarring, incohesive second half. Between the exaggerated take on prep school that dominates the beginning and the murder mystery that drives the conclusion, there were probably two good books to choose from here but forced together each half renders the other inert. Compared to The Secret History--which this book owes a large debt to--none of the characters here use the tragedy to expose their true selves or cast accusations or make tough choices. Instead they complain or run away but that's okay because--and this is what got me--none of them are suspects or, outside of the narrator, in any way driven to find the truth. By the time the book gets around to ending, we've got new problems.

Mostly it's disappointing because there's so much good and new about the style of the book and it seems like that could have been put to a greater end. Or maybe I'm wrong. Know that a great number of people a lot smarter than me--including the person who recommended it--loved it. I can see why it would be an easy book to forgive.


Exhibit 11.6

I heard the best conspiracy theory last night. Apparently this was relayed by my friend's mother's boyfriend which, naturally, makes it pretty good right out of the gate. Normally I'm not one for mocking someone's irrational fears which generally are a result of ignorance and manipulation as opposed to any actual fault in intelligence or character, but this one was initially couched in terms of Muslim/Obama bashing so I think it's fair game.

The theory: The government is raising gas prices so that her citizens will be so poor that they will be forced to sell their guns to the government. Once the government has all of the guns, the government will--and this was the actual phrase used--"take us over."

God, I love that. Here's hoping.

This is how I see this going down:

America: Damn, I don't have enough money for smokes.
Government: I know how you can get some money.
America: Is this some sort of gay thing?
Government: Pretty much. I want to buy your guns.
America: Gee whiz, jiminy jillickers, I'll be, apple pie.
Government: Come on, we won't take over.
America: Fine then.
Government: We're taking over.
America: So what changes?
Government: You'll have to pay taxes on those smokes.
America: Um, okay. That it?
Government: Well, that and Grand Moff Lieberman, yeah.
America: Whatever. What time is Keeping Up with the Kardashians on?
Government: Never. We took it over.
America/Bruce Jenner: Noooo!!!!!

I think I speak for everyone when I say that scenario would be pretty sweet. Of course, it would be even sweeter if it took less time and were funnier.

Exhibit 11.5

It wouldn't surprise me if this video gets pulled due to MLB's draconian policies, but that's Royals shortstop Tony Pena Jr. coming in to pitch during the 9th inning of a blowout. This pretty much made my night last night. Not only did he show some nasty stuff, he pitched the whole thing with his sunglasses on and a monumental plug of chewing tobacco in his mouth. Oh, and he struck out a future Hall of Famer.

Look, they lost 19-4. I'll take what small pleasures I can get.

For those who care about such thing, here's an analysis of his Pitch F/X. Also, for the statheads, take comfort in knowing that Pena's Win Shares, VORP, and WPA are all almost certainly higher for him as a pitcher than as a shortstop (which says a lot about how awful he's been).

You know what else says a lot about how awful he's been, the fact that if he was a full-time pitcher in the National League--as opposed to, you know, a full-time hitter in the American League--his OPS+ would rank 28th among pitchers with 30 at bats according to Sam Mellinger.

Translation: Tony Pena Jr.'s one inning of pitching is more valuable than his half-season of playing shortstop. Also, there are at least 27 pitchers in the National League who are better at hitting a baseball than he is.

I don't care. TPJ just provided one of my favorite baseball memories.

Exhibit 11.4

When not subscribing to The Cupboard, you should be reading Sixth Finch. Heather has work up and there's plenty of other great poetry and art to go around.


Exhibit 11.3

The Cupboard is pleased to announce Parables & Lies by Jesse Ball, the first volume in our new format. A 76-page, tape-bound volume designed by Brett Yasko, Parables & Lies is a beautiful little book which you can explore here.

Please consider subscribing to The Cupboard. We publish 4 volumes a year, and we’ll send them your way for the insignificant price of $15. Of course, we understand that there are a lot of ways to spend your hard-earned money, but trust us when we say that you’ll be very happy with The Cupboard. Subscribe here.

You can also choose to order volumes individually for $5.

The Cupboard's inaugural pamphlet contains thirty-six short narratives about weary travelers and siblings of strange portent. Here is a world of kingdoms and distrust, of strangers to be encountered and age-old morals never, probably, to come. Read excerpts here.

Jesse Ball (1978-) is a poet and novelist. His works include The Way Through Doors (Vintage 2009), Samedi the Deafness (Vintage 2007), Vera & Linus (Nyhil 2006), Og svo kom nottin (Nyhil 2006), and March Book (Grove 2004). His work was included in Best American Poetry 2006. He won the Plimpton Prize for the novella, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr. He is an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. See more at Jesse Ball was a Spy but has Retired to the Country.

The Cupboard welcomes prose submissions of anywhere between 4,000 and 8,000 words. Submissions should be sent by email attachment to submit [at] thecupboardpamphlet [dot] org.

Because this is our first volume (and because it is particularly incredible), we’re hoping you will help us spread the word. Any way you can help us out would be greatly appreciated, as we rely on you for links, subscriptions, and, most importantly, submissions.

Oh, and if you’re interested in reviewing the volume, or know someone who might be, please contact us.

As always, thank you for everything,




Exhibit 11.2

This post probably won't be about cake or crullers or any baked good, really. So that's an improvement already.

I just wanted to point out some things.

Carlin has started his eighth and greatest blog, Fake Interviews With Reputedly Famous People, which, as you may have guessed, features fake interviews with reputedly famous people. They continue to get better. I fear the day when this blog is abandoned like so many others and leaves only a disturbing picture of David Duchovony left for future generations.

I don't care if that's not how you spell his name. I'm not about to look it up.

Joe Posnanski's blog features a poll on who is the lesser actor between Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner. As I type this, they are exactly tied with over 2,100 votes cast. My opinion: Costner is the far inferior actor. Now, if the question was which guy I would rather have a beer with or have a catch with or have show me how great he is at baseball, then sure, Costner all the way. But we've been given a question, and that's the question we have to answer. Ignoring the question at hand in favor of choosing the better-honed public persona is how we ended up in this mess.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to trying to convince myself that the Batman I'll see four months from now on DVD will be just as good as seeing Batman at midnight tonight in a theater. It's an argument I'm losing.

Exhibit 11.1

Heather and I made more chocolate chip cookies.

(I know you're thinking that we live in some magical, cookie-filled paradise. You're mostly right).

Really we just had some standard chocolate chips lingering about and decided to give the old Tollhouse recipe a go to see if it could stand up to our adventures in Cookie-of-Record-approved deliciousness.

Um, no.

They weren't bad exactly. The first one even tasted great if only because their mediocrity made us think of how good cookies could be, sort of like how watching any other third baseman makes a person think of George Brett (no? just me?). Perhaps for the first few bites we were even able to fool ourselves into thinking the flat, sparsely chocolated discs were those other cookies.

In the end, tasteless crumbs stuck to the tears running past our mouths as we shouted recriminations.

Or maybe I'm just misremembering.


Exhibit 10.27

So Heather has started to review things on Yelp--you can see her reviews here--which I think is really fascinating and strange and scary. Apparently this started when some previously unknown archnemesis posted a negative review of a treasured family dining spot which she felt the need to defend.

(This, incidentally, is how I feel when reading this review of the Sands Motor Inn in North Platte. Two stars? Oh, you're on my list Kristopher R. If you weren't some lone warrior pointlessly trying to establish a Yelp outpost in North Platte circa 2006, I'd show you up by giving that nonexistent restaurant at least four stars just to balance out the universe.)

Anyway, it's a short fall from defending restaurants to laboring over just how many stars to give to the mediocre Thai place where we eat. It's fun to have conversations like this:

Heather: What if they read it?
Adam: Yelp in Lincoln seems to be you and one other person.
Heather: I hate that person so much.
Heather: Three stars.
Heather: Two stars.
Heather: No, three stars.

The correct answer is two stars.


Exhibit 10.26

So when not rambling about controversies I don't really care about, I sometimes write about stock photography. Apparently, I'm not alone. Slate is on the case here.


Exhibit 10.25

Not content to play it cool like their benign, cookie-perfecting brethren, the New Yorker has decided to throw a grenade into the relative calm of the mid-early-mid election coverage with their most recent cover. Naturally, people are upset.

The problem isn't that it's unidentifiable as satire or that it's a prima facie ploy for attention, but that it's satire without an obvious referent. The necessity here is that we know the New Yorker is joking because they're the New Yorker, not because there is one consistent, universally identifiable image they are mocking. At best it can be said that they satirizing a problematic conservative meme but their method of doing so confuses the issue by using imagery that, with the exception of the fistbump, is completely from the artist's (rather than the public's) consciousness.

It's a perfectly reasonable response to see this image's heresy (the flag burning) and its stereotyping (poor Michelle) as trumping whatever chuckles, if any, it gets. Mostly there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what role the New Yorker plays in our culture. I think most of us would agree that this image is not so obviously satirical that if it were, say, on the cover of a conservative magazine like the National Review, we'd all recognize it as funny rather than horrific and offensive. If the same image could be used to make exactly the point it's supposed to be satirizing, is it successful satire? And is that 'THE NEW YORKER' up top capable of turning the fear, hate, and racism of the image into a joke all by itself?

It is for me, but that's probably not good enough.

When this image is plastered all over the news tonight--as Mr. Remnick et al. surely knew it would be--the country will be left to make a decision about this image without benefit of an enlightened dialogue on the subject. What discussion there is will be about the controversy, thus effectively removing any element of satire before most Americans get the opportunity to even see the image. Katie Couric isn't going to turn to look at this image as it hovers over her tiny shoulder and laugh tonight. No, she's going to talk about it in an even, grim voice and we're all going to study this like a Jim Crow-era cartoon (except for me, I'll probably be playing Civilization or baking cookies).

As someone from the plains, I'm never one for underestimating "the public" but I think it's a legitimate issue here. Had this been the cover of Mad Magazine, we wouldn't have an issue, but for a magazine that's likely to have diverse and even contradictory connotations to those who don't regularly read it, placing such a problematic image on the cover without only the magazine's name as context risks quite a bit. We already know how this ends, of course, and now that familiar black THE NEW YORKER header is going to loom quite a bit darker for many.

The real question here is why they didn't find a way to use this image--which I think is actually quite funny in the proper context--in a way that was actually, you know, satirizing something. If, say, this image had been on the television screen being watched by two scared looking farmer-types, suddenly the joke is on the media and the rubes.

It's perfect. If we know anything about the New Yorker, it's that they hate the rubes.


Exhibit 10.24

As the next step of this blog's continued devolution from hard hitting literary and political analysis to masochistic sports blog to smiley-faced cooking blog, this post is about cookies.

The Times occasionally takes it upon itself to decide what the best recipe for _______ is and recently they've turned their gaze to chocolate chip cookies. Their quest is detailed here which I'm redundantly linking to despite the fact it has inevitably been emailed to you by your grandmother. The recipe--a chronicle of cacao ratios and refrigeration times--is here.

Not wanting to miss the most recent cookie zeitgeist like we missed the Cakester fad, Heather and I already took a stab at these and I'm here to tell you they are nothing short of incredible.

In the oven they seemed threateningly puffy, the sort of lonely, doughy cookies that you see at a school potluck, but by the time they were done they'd settled into the perfect ratio of crispy outside and chewy inside.

Plus, look at that presentation. I wasn't sure about the step calling for a brown table cloth, but the Times really came through.

Stay tuned as this blog continues to decline in coming weeks until it's nothing but artwork done by Australian children:



Exhibit 10.23

I don't have a favorite professional basketball team, mostly because I don't like the sport. While this small handicap has never kept me from casually following a team before--hello, Chicago Blackhawks--I've begun to feel like I need to hop on a bandwagon lest I find myself alone with Spike Lee and, faced with a dearth of other conversation topics, have to talk about Crooklyn.

So I'm thinking about jumping on this new Oklahoma City team's bandwagon, but I can't decide if it's worth it. The case:

Kevin Durant
Good G.M.
What is sure to be an ecstatic fanbase
Closest team to Lincoln (well, more or less tied with Minnesota anyway)

Team did more to destroy Seattle than the movie Singles
Will undoubtedly choose a horrible name/color scheme
No history at all
All the players are going to hate OKC

Those are some pretty daunting minuses. I know we're all thinking this, but rooting for this team will be a little bit like rooting for the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. It's a compromise solution springing from tragedy, nobody inside or outside the organization wants to be there except for a select few, and there's a distinct feeling that sooner or later everyone is going to come to their senses and we'll all go home.

That said, it's a pretty compelling opportunity to grow with a new team that isn't going to have the collection of stiffs and bad contracts of an expansion team. This whole thing might come down to the mascot. If they pick the Thunderbirds, I'm out. If they pick The Fabulous Thunderbirds and feature Jimmie Vaughan on their jerseys, I'm back in.


Exhibit 10.22

Stock Photography Review

They say you can judge a society by how it treats its worst citizens, and there's no reason to think this isn't a good way to judge stock photography as well. Here are some examples of how stock photography handles the sick among us because they are anonymous consumers of products too.

You can't really get much worse off than this lady, who appears to have caught all the diseases. As she uses her non-branded computer to check the Internet for possible cures to Headache/Stomachache/Pregnancy, she swallows pill after pill, no longer caring if she ends up like her cousin:

Oh, poor Tiffany. If only they hadn't made her pills in the same color scheme as her favorite variety of Good & Plenty...

By the way, that photo is pretty much perfect if you're trying to sell...

A) Nothing
B) A Way Out
C) Durable Brown Plastic Pill Bottles

Gerry wasn't sure how to immortalize Grandpa until he saw a newspaper ad seeking models for stock photos...

I'd like to think that whoever took this photo was really excited about cornering the market on corpse photos.

There's nothing really remarkable about this one except for the fact Tiny Head here was probably actually sick the day they taught fake coughing in his San Bernardino Community College acting class. It was his one chance to get an 'A' which would have saved him from a life spent acting, poorly, like he was actually sick.

Of course, then there are the lucky models like this kid:

Somehow he lucked into his own series of stock photos taking place in a dystopian future where tracking done by forehead barcodes has replaced traditional parenting.

That's like the Star Wars of the stock photography world.

My god, these two look horrible. What happened to them?

Ah, of course.


Exhibit 10.21

Congratulations to Royals All-Star Joakim Soria.


23 SV
37 IP
41 K
1.22 ERA
.730 WHIP
349 ERA+
1 Old-Timey Beard

Soria didn't even have to grow that beard, it actually jumped from Abraham Lincoln's face once it found a worthy suitor.

Too soon?

And did I mention his intro song is "Welcome to the Jungle"? Or that his nickname is "The Mexicutioner"?

Yeah, he's pretty much your favorite player.


Exhibit 10.20

For reasons I can't even begin to conceive of, I've joined Facebook. By my count, I'm probably the eighth to last person in the world to take the plunge into this seedy world of walls and graduation years. I'm cold and alone. People keep poking me. I'm scared.

If you too want to be a part of this humiliating embodiment of man's decline, join me. Or friend me. Or whatever. I don't know. It's probably best if we all just forget this ever happened.


Exhibit 10.19

The Raw Shark Texts

Sometimes I'm easy. If you write a novel that quotes Murakami and Calvino, features an ethereal "conceptual shark" as an antagonist, and includes an underground world of people who explore unspace, well, I'm probably going to enjoy your book. If the last quarter of the book is more or less a retelling of Jaws, all the better. Steven Hall's debut novel has all of these things and quite a bit more in a quick 450 pages. I might try to review it at length soon so I'll keep my thoughts here brief.

I loved it.

Okay, less brief:

The plot - it probably won't do any good to describe it to you. Not that it's difficult to follow, exactly, just that its delightful oddity might seem over-the-top out of context. Here goes: Eric Sanderson wakes up in his house without any memories. The prior Eric Sanderson has foreseen this occurrence and arranged for a series of notes, letters, and mementos to arrive. These are less than helpful since the prior Eric Sanderson doesn't seem to remember much more than our Eric Sanderson because a conceptual shark--called a Ludovician--has been eating his memories. And it's coming back.

You know, that old story.

It's hard to express just how well the conceptual elements are handled. The shark isn't a shark...but it's totally a shark, peaking its fin above the floor of his consciousness and hunting Eric Sanderson down until it has eaten everything except his pointless human shell. Part of the beauty of the book--both as an object and as a concept--is that it visualizes its language-based terrors as pictures crafted out of words. It's pretty incredible to see a novel--a thriller no less--so singularly focused on thought and language and culture that it's impossible to describe the book without touching on how those elements form us as people.

As you might have noticed, it's a highly original book. Still, it's not always perfect. The language seems to erode as the pages go on, possible because the author (like this reader) might have preferred to spend the entire book in his dark, theoretical underworld rather than pushing the plot toward the Jaws reenactment. Also, the ending seems to want us to question the reliability of the narrator, but of course every reader is already doing that given his condition. The thing is, most if not all readers will decide that they don't care if he's crazy as we're people looking for a good story not detectives trying to find what's real in a world of impossibility. It's more fun to believe in the shark than it is to doubt it, and risking our faith for a wink seems pointless if not disrespectful.

Besides, we know which side the author falls on. The world here is too remarkable to dismiss so easily.