Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gestures in Literacy #4 is over, defeated by--guh!--teamwork

The old record was 2 hours, 25 minutes. But today you've set a new record, keri (and whatever nefarious forces are on your "team"): Gestures in Literacy #4 was up for all of 55 minutes before you solved it. As keri said...

The hospital people said the acid was running to his heart and all they could do was put a magnet in his body

Team effort.

chris, of course, set the expectation that solutions will also include the contents of the other side of the page. So at least we denied you that satisfaction, keri and co., didn't we?

The only mystery left for our other, non-team-using readers, then, keri and co.--if that even is your real names, you fancypants scoundrels--is the flip side. Which is:

"So they did." Ha. You didn't get that. Because we didn't show it to you, but so what? You didn't get it. So we tie. Yep, that's right--tie. Oh, we're being petulant? Really? We're being sore losers? Is that right? Well excuuuse us!

We're taking our gestures and going home now. Bye. Buh bye. Maybe we'll be back tomorrow, maybe not. Bye now. We're leaving. Going now. Bye.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gestures in Literacy #4: No hints

You know how it works. And no hints this time. Should we assume you'll crack this code quickly? If you don't, we'll post the answer on Friday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From the Library: Rick Bass, "The Hermit's Story"

With the best stories, really, what is there to say? Maybe say what it is like: "It reminds me of Steinbeck's 'Chrysanthemums,' not for its plot or setting or characters, but for how it feels to read it." Say how it unwinds: "Every time it could have taken a wrong turn, it didn't." Say what it did to you: "It snapped into the part of my brain that was already shaped like this story, and waiting for it." Say its most conspicuous quality, ineptly, without evidence: "It is beautiful." And then qualify that: "but not in a boring way."

Or just read off one of the parts you like best:

There were little pockets and puddles of swamp gas pooled here and there, she said, and sometimes a spark from the cattails would ignite one of those, and all around these little pockets of gas would light up like when you toss gas on a fire—these little explosions of brilliance, like flashbulbs—marsh pockets igniting like falling dominoes, or like children playing hopscotch—until a large enough flash-pocket was reached—sometimes thirty or forty yards away from them, by this point—that the puff of flame would blow a chimney-hole through the ice, venting the other pockets, and the fires would crackle out—the scent of grass smoke sweet in their lungs—and they could feel gusts of warmth from the little flickering fires, and currents of the colder, heavier air—sliding down through the new vent holes and pooling around their ankles. The moonlight would strafe down through those rents in the ice, and shards of moon-ice would be glittering and spinning like diamond-motes in those newly vented columns of moonlight; and they pushed on, still lost, but so alive.

And through reading off the part, begin to think you should explain what's happening. Then think, can I just reprint the whole thing here?

"The Hermit's Story" is a story of the North, where once the boldest, most thrilling adventure stories were set. (The otherworlds we most commonly imagine today are farther off, in galaxies far, far away. Only the residue of polar glamour is left in our cultural memory, nostalgized now and then by McSweeney's). Bass's North is an unfamiliar North, though: a nighttime North, oddly warm and wet and cold at once, both frozen and so alive, ice-blue and fire-orange, of-the-earth and full of the smells of lake and mud.

So, this reader has been meaning to post reviews of A.S. Byatt's Possession and Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. Both are already well-known, however; and since one is 600 pages long, with four or five narrators and five or six constituent texts, and the other demands to be reread several times in succession, they are high-maintenance reading recommendations for the working Portland writer. In place of reviews, suffice it that Byatt's novel and Rilke's letters, too, left this reader with little to say. Rilke writes: "works of art are of an infinite loneliness, and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism." So the critic, when she encounters a true work of art, is left finally with only one thing to say: "read this."

Rick Bass's "The Hermit's Story" was originally published in The Paris Review in 1998. You can also read it in Bass's collection The Hermit's Story: Stories (Mariner, 2003) or The Paris Review Book of People with Problems (2005).

There are half a dozen copies of Letters to a Young Poet (about $6 each, used) in the back streetside corner of the blue room at Powell's, where the poetry is, at the end of the dictionary aisle. You can also get Possession at Powell's.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Michael Crichton passes, but a young boy's first reading experience lives on

Michael Crichton, pictured at left and who died of cancer Tuesday, was never among America's best writers. His books, however, from Rising Sun to Congo, from Sphere to The Andromeda Strain, along with his successful forays into television and film (most notably, the perennially followed ER), were among the most popular and bestselling of his time.

As embarrassing as such an admission once was throughout college and grad school and well into early adulthood, when it was far more cool to cite and envy Kafka and Foucault, it seems appropriate now to mark Crichton's passing by mentioning without reservation or hesitation that for one of us here at PDX Writer Daily, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park will forever remain one of the most notable books of all time. It has the unique distinction, in fact, of being the first real novel I ever truly read.

I won't lie: it took me a whole year to read Jurassic Park in the eighth grade. An. Entire. Year. As a young boy, I apparently found it difficult to focus on anything for more than about 48 seconds, even well-described and tense novel scenes involving dinosaurs and goats and people and cars. But over the course of those twelve months in 1991, I slowly plodded my way through the adventures of paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotonist Ellie Sattler, as brought on by the misguided visionary billionaire John Hammond and his experimental dino park. (I should also go on record as saying that I was then thoroughly convinced that I would become a paleontologist when I grew up, which, as you might expect, did not work out so well.) My father, who had purchased the book for me as a surprise and was living out of state, would call a few times a week and check in on my reading progress, to which I'd usually respond with details I looked up in the current chapter just before we spoke. Caught unprepared, I would usually lie and tell him that it was going really well and that "there were dinosaurs everywhere!"

As slowly I as read, though, I eventually and inevitably finished the book on which I then wrote the proudest book report of my school career: a 3/4-page hand-written anaylsis of Ian Malcolm's line, "We were so busy thinking about whether or not we could, we never stopped to think about whether or not we should." The faint philosophical ramifications of this quote kept me busier thinking and pondering than anything I had hitherto encountered. I was, quite simply, astounded... and hungry for more.

By the time Jurassic Park's sequel The Lost World was released in 1995, I had learned, it seems, how to read more quickly. I remember I bought the book in the first week of its appearance on shelves and read the whole of it in under seven days (a record!), finding it exciting and extremely difficult to put down.

Here's the only thing I regret: though I have kept both books all these years (they are proudly though understatedly nestled on my shelves between Hemingway, Plath, Orringer, Eggers, Doerr, Shakespeare, and all the others), I threw away the dustjackets. Why did I do that? I can't remember now, but it's probably only a matter of time before I reread them both as a sort of personal archeological experiment.

I wonder what I would get out of the books now, having read hundreds of others since then? As Crichton's speciality was in presenting his readers with literary warnings about the perils of technology and human endeavor, I sense that I would probably find at least one line in there somewhere to mull over for the better part of a year.

So, though I've never seen even one episode of ER and have absolutely no intention of buying Crichton's last novel (which will be posthumously released in May 2009), I nonetheless grieve the loss of he who, with the gates of Jurassic Park, opened the world to me.