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[LISTENED TO: January 12, 2012] Girl with Curious Hair

I saw a placeholder on Amazon for this audio book in early 2011.  And then I promptly forgot all about it.  My friend George just asked if anyone had heard it yet, so I decided to check it out.  I downloaded it through Audible.com.

And here’s my two cents about Audible.  Although it was free (for a 30 day trial), it was a lot of work.  The entire book (14 hours) downloaded in two files.  Each was about 7 hours with no breaks or chapters of any kind–just two huge 7 hour files.  Okay, I often download stuff and bring it into Audacity to make my own chapter breaks.  But you can’t import this file into Audacity because it is its own proprietary format and doesn’t want you to put it in MP3 format.  So, I had to burn it to CD (but not in MP3, only in WAV) and then put the CDs back in to iTunes to import them as MP3.  From there I could import them into Audacity and put tracks where I wanted.  That’s a lot of work to save $29.

I’m also going to say that I didn’t want a membership to Audacity because it costs $15/mo and the savings aren’t really that good anyhow.  Even kids books are about $10 each.  Oh, and just see how many hoops they have you go through to try and cancel.   Heavens to Betsy.

And but so on to the actual audiobook.

The book was read by Robert Petkoff (who is Reader A below) and Joshua Swanson (who is reader B below).  I don’t know anything about them, but their websites will give you more info about them.

I found the readings to be simply wonderful.  They were impassioned and articulate and dealt with some of DFW’s tongue twisting word choices with ease.  They also handle DFW’s dialect and accents with ease.  And while Swanson has a much much broader range of voices to play around with (his women voices are far superior to Petkoff’s), Petkoff also pulls of some amazing voices, especially in “John Billy.”  I never questioned what was happening.

Some of these stories are challenging and I admit I found them difficult to read.  But the audio versions seemed to really clarify things.  (There are all kinds of reasons why this could be so, but I’m not going to delve into that, for there lies madness).  Nevertheless, this was a great way to hear these stories.  Especially the ones that had heavy dialect.

“Little Expressionless Animals” [Petkoff] (90 minutes)
Petkoff sounds uncannily like Kyle McLachlan–no bad thing.  Although Petkoff doesn’t work too hard trying to do different voices, he puts in enough distinction to make the characters distinguishable.  (We have been listening to a lot of kid’s audio books, and the narrators of those are amazing with the kind of vocal acrobatics they can do!).  Petkoff is more subtle, but it is also effective–it’s not just a straight voice, which I think might get confusing especially in the dialogue scenes.

There is a hint of Alex Trebek’s voice when doing Alex Trebek, but he’s definitely not trying to mimic the voices of the celebrities.  For the most part, the voices are slight variations of the main narrator.  Indeed, during the later Faye and Julie dialogue section, he does slight differences between their voices to help distinguish the characters.  Which is quite helpful in the story.

This story works very well in audio book format.

One of the things that I loved about this story this time was really piecing together all of the various compnents.  Inclduing things like the revealtion of why Julie does poorly on the subject of animals.  It’s quite obvious when the story ends, but through the whole story you keep wondering, what is it about the animals?  I’m aslo intrigued at the number of gay characters in the book.

And, of course, this story has a major obsession with pop culture, especially TV.  And knowing (from interviews) that DFW sais he would just get sucked in to watching TV all day if it wa svailable, his tone (as is Petkoff’s) is perfect when dealing with the TV issues.

“Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR” [Petkoff] (18 minutes)
Petkoff sounds slightly differnt than in “LEA.”  Since thist story has no dialogue, there’s not a lot of differentiation in the story.  His deadpan delivery is perfect for all of the details in the story. Although at the end, his “Help”s are quite empassioned, letting you know there’s a little bit more going on.

“Girl with Curious Hair” [Swanson] (50 minutes)
Swanson’s voice is of a much higher timbre, and it’s kind of fun to have two different voices in this book.  This story benefits quite well from an audio format.

The story is deliebrately flat and, I have to admit, is not terribly easy to read.  Swanson handles the flatness very well, he reads it incredibly deadpan and yet he puts enough inflection in it to keep it from being monotone.  I have to assume it wasn’t easy to read this.  I think that he has really made this disturbing character quite real.

Obsevrations about the story.  Hearing this story out loud was more shocking than reading it.  The explicit sex is pretty shocking for DFW and the revelation about what happened to Sick Puppy when he was a kid is prodoundly distrubing, especially when it is read in this non-inflected voice.  It was uncomforatble and very effetcive.

There were times when I wondered about the believability of the charcter.  The use of the word negro, the utter flatness of him. I realize that he is quite damaged, but at times it seemed like maybe this story was too much.  Which is a bit of a surprise, as I find DFW’s charcatersto be very real.

“Lyndon”  [Swanson] [1 hr 45 min]
I didn’t really enjoy “Lyndon” when I read the story.  It’s a little long and had many different things going on.  I kept wondering about Lyndon himself.  About what made DFW write a story based around Lyndon Johnson, around jhis life and politics.

But hearing this story read aloud, with the Swanson’s various voices and accents and newspaper stories all differentiated really brought this to life.  I felt like it was so much more vibrant and alive and passionate in this audio version.  I read in my post that i found the ending quite moving when I read the story, but it felt even more so, with Lady Bird’s quiet, dignified delivery, here.

Observations on the story.  How odd that he chose to make this story that is about a real, and quite famous and well studied person.  I don’t know a thing about Lyndon, so I have no idea how much of this is true (the few LBJ quiotes I looked up seem faked).  I don’t think I spent enough time thinking about the main character when I read the story.  Boyd is so fully realized and amazing that Lyndon is really superflous.  This is awonderfully emotive story.  And Swanson really does an amazing job.

“John Billy” [Petkoff] (1hr 10 min)
I thought “John Billy” was a real challenge to read.  The dialect is pretty crazy.  And the story is not exactly easy to begin with.  But much like Swanson in “Lyndon,” Petkoff’s voices are outstanding here.  The main voice of John Billy is great–he handles the accent and the crazy word choices that John Billy has with ease.  The story flows perfectly.  It’s really impressive.

And while the voice of Glory Joy isn’t wonderful (Petkoff’s women are just softer versions of his voice), he more than makes up for it with the amazing transformation of Simple Ranger.  In the reading, it is clear that Simple Ranger “grows younger” from a quiet, hard to hear older to a youthful loud charcater.  And Petkoff takes that literally so you can really hear him change into a man with a “curious plus haunting voice that was not…of his gravelly, gray-lunged voice somehow, his own, somehow.”  And then, later in the story Ranger’s voice changes again when he “whispered, the big sharp clear new Ranger in a smooth new clear young voice.”   But nothing prepared me for the voice of T Rex Minogue. It is stunning.  It’s an amazingly processed voice that is as malevolent as it is “mechanical.”  It’ s masterful.

As for the story itself, the whole saga of C.Nunn Jr is bizarre and wonderful, a crazy hyperbole of a story.  It also seems crazily over the top hearing it aloud (like in “GwCH”).  The whole story’s end with C Nunn’s eyes is preposterous (what is it with people’s eyes in this book?).  And yet it feels like the nonsense is there as a balance for the heaviness.

The story is funny and silly but by the end it gets incredibly dark and thoughtful.  It’s a challenge to listen to, especially the end, but I think it benefits from an audio version.

“Here and There” [Swanson] (55 min)
I found this story somehow more confusing while listening than when reading.  There’s so much back and forth with voices and the whole conceit that this is some kind of fiction therpay doesn’t really translate easily here.  I also found some of the more academic sections to be kind of dull in his reading.  It’s a challenge to read aloud and keep interesting, I’m sure, but I found this story to be the least successful of the collection.

“My Appearnce” [Petkoff] (58 minutes)
This is written in frist person from a woman.  Petkoff, who has quite a deep voice conveys a woman very well.  This is a great reading for this story.  He does “versions” of David Letterman and Paul Schaffer.  They are not impersonantions by any means, but he has the tone down perfectly.   The male voices whispering in her ear are done in a very simple whisepred voice.  Very effective.

This is a great story and the audio is also wonderful.

“Say Never” [Petkoff and Swanson] (42 minutes)
Petkoff does a very good job with the accents in this story.  Labov’s heavy Jewish accent is very impressive.  And although Mrs Tebof is not very different from Labov, it is different enough to convey the accent and the tone.   He also does Lenny’s voice, which is the bulk of the story.

Swanson also comes in this story as well, doing the voices of Mikey and Louis (two very distinct voices, even if they are both a little Hollywood Gangster from the 40s).  I would have been interesting to hear them interact more in the book somehow.

I was struck by this story more in the listening than the reading.  There’s something about hearing people say these things that makes them more shocking.  Especially the note that he sends to his family (talking about his wife’s lack of sex drive–gasp!).  This is another one of DFW’s stories that ends before something big happens.  It’s funny how many of his stories seem like preludes.

“Everything is Green” [Petkoff] (3 minutes)
It’s also amazing that this whole story is only 3 minutes and thirty seconds long.  Petkoff reads this story in a perfect DFW deadpan style.  He even does May Flys voice with a (slight) accent.

“Westward the Course of Empire Takes it Way”  [Swanson] (6 hours)
Swanson does an amazing job with this difficult story.  There are nearly a dozen charaters in here and he manages to keep them all separate and distinct.  It’s really great.  This is especially true late in the story, when they are in the car on the way to Collison.  He has six people in the car and he manages to make sthem all unique:  J.D. is dark and gravelly while DeHaven has a kind of Midwestern Stoner tone.  Tom Sternberg is neurotic and aggressive at the same time.  D.L. is snotty and presumptuous (although it may be Swanson’s weakest voice, it really conveys the character well).  Magda is exhausted.  And Mark is a solid late teenager.

Let’s not froget the pissed off Fertilizer salesman, the Avis clerk and the bartender.  And the narrator of course.

This story is also fairly complex and hard to follow (when reading).  There so much going on what with the narrator’s interruptions and the metafiction.

What I really noticed this time is how the parts that are not metafictional, the actual narrative of the story is really good, really strong and emotional.  Not to say that the more meta- sections of it are bad, they just don’t have the same kind of impact.  Of course, the whole point of the story is to play around with meta-fiction, so I’m not entirely sure how successful it is in that regard.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinting look at youth in America.  And I have to say that it really works as a foreshdaowing of issues that he would explore more in his later stories and IJ.

Some things I notice din this listen.  DFW uses the word “plus” instead of “and” a lot.  It’s a fascinating word choice, and one that I think virtually no one uses.  Sometimes it’s effective and other times it’s very clunky.  I never noticed it while reading but it’s very obvious when listening.

I just read my review of the short story collection, which I think was kind of brief.  I feel like I got a lot more out of the book this time around. Of course this is my second reading so that makes sense as well.  It’s also interesting how I enjoyed some stories more and other stories less.

Overall though, this is an excellent audio book.

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mcsweeneys3SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Riot Act (2002).

riotactThis album seems to get overshadowed by the anti-George Bush track “Bu$hleaguer.” Evidently many people were turned off by this track, and that may have had an impact on sales. Of course, I’m sure many other people were introduced to the band by this song, too. Regardless, the rest of the album shouldn’t be judged by this track, as it is rather unusual.

This disc is the first one to feature a dedicated keyboardist, “Boom” Gaspar.  He’s present on all of the live discs from this concert tour, and it is quite disconcerting the first time you hear the audience yell “Boooooooooooom” when he comes out.  But he plays a mean organ solo.

“Can’t Keep” opens the disc sounding unlike other PJ tracks.  It has a vibe like Led Zeppelin III–almost a world-acoustic feel.  “Save You” rocks out with the classic chorus, “And fuck me if I say something you don’t wanna hear.  And fuck me if you only hear what you wanna hear.  Fuck me if I care.”  A great fast song with a cool bassline.  “Love Boat Captain” feature Boom Gaspar’s first contribution to a song: lots of organ.  It’s a rather touching song, a gentle piece, except for a center part which rocks out. “Cropduster” features a delicate chorus after a skittery verse.  If you are familiar with Matt Cameron’s contributions to the band, you’ll not be surprised by the unusual sound of this song.

“I Am Mine” starts a section of three great songs. This one is acousticy and uplifting.  “Thumbing My Way” is a pretty PJ ballad.  Then “You Are” has a really funky wah wahed sound on almost the whole song.  Three great tracks in a row.

Not that “Get Right” is bad.  It just doesn’t quite fit the mood of the previous three.  Rather, this is a punk blast that feels more than a little off-kilter (another Cameron track, of course).   “Help Help” begins the really weird section of the disc with this peculiar song (catchy chorus though).  It’s followed by “Bu$hleaguer” a spoken word rant, with an abstract chorus.  The chanting aspect is interesting, th0ugh.  “Arc” is a short chant, no doubt reflecting Eddie’s duet with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

“1/2 Full” returns to the “proper” songs with this sloppy jam.  The verses are quiet but the choruses rock.  “All or None” is another mellow disc ender, this one has some good subtle drumming that really propels this jazzy song.

At this point in Pearl Jam’s career, we get yet another solid effort.  You more or less know what to expect on their releases although there’s always a surprise.

[READ: May 7, 2009] McSweeney’s #3

This is the third volume of McSweeney’s print journal.  This one, like the first two, is a white, softcover edition.  If you click on the cover above it will take you to the flickr page with a larger picture.

[UPDATE: September 25, 2009]

It has just come to my attention that David Foster Wallace DOES have a  piece in this magazine.  (See my comment on the Notes from the authors).  His piece runs on the spine of the book and is called:
“Another Example of the Porousness of Various Borders (VI): Projected but not Improbable Transcript of Author’s Parents’ Marriage End, 1971” (which is also available in his book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men under the title “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)”).

The piece itself is almost shorter than the whole title and is basically a funny argument about which parent would get the double-wide trailer and which parent would get him.  Pretty funny stuff, and even funnier for being on the spine.

Okay, back to the issue.

[end UPDATE]

The opening colophon on this one explains the price increase (from $8 to $10).  It’s because this is a longer issue, it has color plates (foldouts!) and because of a sad but amusing anecdote of a lost bag with $2,000 cash.
There’s also notes about some stories (the Hoff & Steinhardt pieces are true) and an apology of sorts for running a story about the Unabomber.

And an actual (presumably) envelope sent from the titular Timothy McSweeney, as a way of verifying the authenticity of the title of the journal.

The final page of the colophon shows a sample of how long it will take for them to respond to submissions (which should not be funny fake news).  And it ends with a half a dozen or so random questions, which they do answer: ARE THE RIVERS THAT FLOW FROM HOT SPRINGS HOT? They are often very warm.  DO THEY GIVE OFF STEAM? Yes, and they smell vaguely of sulfur. MARTIN VAN BUREN: He had a certain charm.  etc.


Ride with Jonatahn Lethem and the Mad Brooklynite as he narrates Manhattan’s superiority complex when it comes to the other boros.  Funny stuff. (more…)

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