Eek! I just downloaded and installed IE 5.2 for OS X, which counts among its improvements “support for the new Quartz text smoothing feature.” And boy, do things look smooth. I’m deeply unsure how I feel about this. For those of you* who don’t/can’t use IE 5.2 (and good for you), here’s a screenshot of the Quartz-ed up site.

What do you think? I’m thinking I may have to sans-serifize things or risk looking too much like a word-processed church newsletter.

*This assumes, of course, that there is someone out there. Which there is… Right?

Rubbed Out

Entertainment Weekly recently reported on the latest shady doings from the world of la cosa nostra: Fairuza Balk, who appeared in The Sopranos‘ third-season finale as undercover FBI agent Deborah Ciccerone, tasked to approach Drea de Matteo’s Adriana La Cerva for a little girl-talk, has been replaced for season four by Lola Glaudini, formerly of NYPD Blue.

Not such big news: the two Darrins made this kind of TV-switcheroo years ago, and Agent Ciccerone’s hardly as focal as that.

Except that David Chase et al have taken this replacement to Huxleyan lengths, reshooting Balk’s scenes with Glaudini in the role for the upcoming (August 27) season three DVD release.

Reports suggest that Balk has entered the witness protection program. And about that, we’ll say no more.

Preparing for Re-Entry

The last day in Hawaii, alas. Packing up the suitcase, hunting for the items lost beneath the bed. Realizing that I only took 8 pictures while I was here, and now this roll of film will languish in my camera until after Christmas, when I’ll finally take it to get developed and will open the envelope of pictures expecting to find only niecelings and nephews in various shades of green and red, only to be abruptly taken back here by the slightly grainy reproduction of the view from my balcony, the sand, the surf, the sunrise on the Royal Hawaiian.

Yes, film. You remember film, right?

Will be back in New Orleans for about a month prior to re-entry stage two — moving back to SoCal — where I’ll have a little less than a month before beginning re-entry stage three — moving back into the classroom. Am hoping that these few Hawaii pictures, and the Puritanesque delayed gratification involved in obtaining them, will provide solace some night, sitting by the light of my little desktop halogen, surrounded by papers on Native Son and feeling this sabbatical-won peace to be wholly, completely obsolesced.

Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

1. Just because you read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn five years ago doesn’t mean you’ll remember its details during your orals.

2. When told in the early stages of a relationship the excruciating details of your blameless partner’s last miserable breakup, listen closely: you’re getting a snapshot of how it will all end.

3. Your metabolism really does change at 30.

4. A major writing project will always take at least twice as long as you think it will, no matter how you leniently you create the schedule.

5. Cheap sushi is cheap for a reason.

Influence, Part II

Previously, on Planned Obsolescence: the book list, not as designator of “quality” or “greatness,” but rather of “influence,” which one intrepid reader understood to be the fluidity with which a book’s central concept made itself available to cocktail party chatter.

Now, another list, this one voted upon by “around 100 of the world’s top authors,” in an attempt to determine the “most meaningful book of all time.” The winner: Don Quixote.

I return to the question of the list today because the Chronicle of Higher Education (sorry, subscription required) reported the same story this week, but described the list as that of “the 100 most influential works of fiction.” So I started thinking that perhaps this list might help me understand this business of literary influence a bit better than I presently do. Are “influence” and “meaningfulness” related? Or is the entire list-making hoo-ha (which frankly I thought we’d seen the end of for a while) up to some other goal?

While I ponder, a few observations:

1. Europeans are more influential than Americans, 2 to 1.

2. Men similarly out-influence women, almost 8 to 1.

3. While the Boston Public Library was not apparently particularly influenced by Invisible Man, around 100 of the world’s top authors were.

4. Morrison, yes. Pynchon, no.

5. I’ve read an embarrassing 41 of 100.

A final thought: who drew up the list of around 100 of the world’s top authors, who then drew up the list of the 100 most meaningful/influential books? Could it be argued that the creator(s) of that list are in fact the most influential of all?

Dept. of Musical Revisionism

Earlier that day, over lunch:

Me (hearing “Born in the U.S.A.” over the restaurant P.A. system): How on earth did those Republican knuckleheads hear this song and decide it was a patriotic anthem?

He: It makes total sense. Their whole rhetorical m.o. involves not fully understanding what they’re quoting, and then completely revising what the original means when they’re found out.

Okay, fine. It’s the same kind of revisions that are worked by television advertising all the time, when a song like this is used to plug a product like this. (The revised meaning of which seems to become — what? — I haven’t had sex in years, so I’m buying a really big car?)

But the impulse toward this kind of lyrical revisionism just became too much that night, on our dinner cruise — and yes, yes, the ironies, given the reading I’m doing this week — after a pleasant half-hour standing at the rail, watching Waikiki drift by. As we walked back into the dining room to pay the lovely young man who’d kept us supplied with Mai Tais for the evening, I suddenly felt uneasy, unsettled, nervous, wrong. Took a moment to take stock: no, I have everything I came with; no, I’m not feeling ill; no, there doesn’t appear to be disaster looming just ahead.

It required a few moments to sink in. Literally. First, I noticed the really bad rendition being done by the man at the synthesizer and the woman at the mike. Then, I recognized that this was a bad rendition of a song that I hated in the first place. It’s that whatsername song, gee, you know, the Canadian chick who’s always — yeah, Celine, right. From that movie, you know…


I ask you — seriously, tell me if it’s just me — but is this an appropriate song to be playing on board?

Okay, sure, it’s about a love that survives even death, even an icy cold watery death — but see, there’s that whole death part, and the water, and gee, look, we’re on a boat! In the water!

It’s not revisionism. It’s just flat not paying attention.

Hey, Where’s the Joy of Cooking?

In the spirit of two years ago, I’ve recently been directed to this list of the 100 Most Influential Books of the Century. The shift in directive — influence rather than “quality” — from all those other lists that came out in 1999-2000 makes this one a little more interesting. After all, it’s tough to imagine Heidegger, Heisenberg, and Heller coming in immediate sequence on any of those other lists. But the very same premise — as well as some of the selections — leaves me very puzzled about both the criteria and the results. What constitutes “influentialness”? Influential with whom?

These questions aside, I’m nonetheless left brimming with observations:

1. There’s a decided pre-1970 bias in this list. A mere 11 books published after this date made the cut.

2. Nothing of influence was published during the 1980s.

3. The only book of influence to be published since 1979 is John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992).

4. “Non-fiction” out-influences “fiction” 65-35.*

My favorite part of this list, however, is the ensuing list of “Books that Didn’t Quite Make It.” I think that all canonical lists should now be required to come with also-rans: books that didn’t quite make it onto my syllabus, books that didn’t quite make it onto your exam reading list, books that didn’t quite make it into this summer’s stack of beach reading.

*Both terms very loosely characterized. Poetry (2) and drama (2) are lumped in under fiction. Autobiographies likewise under non-fiction, regardless of the sanity of their writers. Any errors in categorization are errors of this counter, whose eyes are swimming from staring at the list for so long.

Hawaii Is Good

for many things. For getting up at 4 am since your body can still be fooled into thinking it’s 9.

For catching up on that reading you meant to do years ago but could never quite get to.

For keeping abreast of the latest wonders of the Disney world of multiculturalism.*

For remembering all the words to “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” not to mention the complete Eagles and Jimmy Buffet songbooks.

For getting a tan, getting in shape, getting back in touch with the joys of rum.

But not so good for writing. Nope, not so good at all.

*See, the cute little brown girl thinks she’s adopted a dog, but he’s actually an alien. An evil alien. Get it?

Mining the Backlist

I’m one of those folks whose first introduction to Richard Powers was Galatea 2.2, which I suppose is the place that a lot of people start with him. Like White Noise is the place to start reading DeLillo, and The Crying of Lot 49 is the place to start reading Pynchon. Some might argue that the drawing criterion is the relative brevity of these entry texts, but I think there’s something more to it than just brevity — it’s the entire project in miniature. Once you’ve read COL49, you know something about what Pynchon’s up to that makes it possible to take on Gravity’s Rainbow. Similarly DeLillo: reading White Noise makes a later reading of Underworld possible.

So with Powers. But there’s this added hitch with Galatea, in that the novel purports to recount his publishing history up to that point, following a character named “Richard S. Powers” through his remembrances of the composition of his earlier novels. Does starting with Galatea inevitably ruin — or maybe that’s too harsh a word; maybe I just mean “color” — the reading of the previous texts?

I guess I was always afraid that it would, because I first read Galatea about four or five years ago, and never read any other Powers. Which is strange for me, as I tend to go on author-binges when I read something I love, and I loved Galatea.

So over the last month, I’ve begun making up for lost time, reading the Powers oeuvre in chronological sequence. I’ve finished Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, which, as an example of a first novel, so intimidated me that I may never make another stab at the form. Also Prisoner’s Dilemma (which, while deeply moving, I’m relieved to say is my least favorite so far) and The Gold Bug Variations. About which I feel unqualified to say anything except wow.

I’m now on Operation Wandering Soul, the completion of which will take me back up to my starting point. Do I re-read Galatea then? I began this reading of the Powers backlist with a certain kind of “knowledge” about what these novels were up to — but now, with the novels themselves under my belt, will my sense of that prior “knowledge” change? Would that change further readings of the earlier books?

You gotta love a novel sequence with its own built-in recursive loop.