Saturday, July 28, 2007

2 more things...

... about those Matthew Sharpe books, Stories from the Tube and Nothing is Terrible:

1) they both include scenes where oil is boiled for quick-frying. Quick frying and creepiness.

2) in both reviews I mention English class/assignments. This sounds bad, but it is actually great. His work really shows someone having fun with the limits as a growing talent. Somehow that equals English class for me.

Blood! Pus! Learning?

Just finished The Knife Man. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Part of my enjoyment as that this nonfiction book took place (and had some of the same characters and institutions) during and after the times of the Baroque Trilogy books by Neal Stephenson, which I loved, digressions be damned.

Both make me want to pick up a copy of Samuel Pepys' journals and dive in.

Look for a review here soon.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Three days until the deadline for the new contest.
Get to that writing!

It's a bloggy world

On Wednesday, mr. prepuce arrived in all his holy glory for a business trip to the big apple. Our conversation was a bit constrained by another, unexpected person in our party, but it was nice to see him anyway. Next time he needs to stay longer and bring his baby.


Last night I hung with Mary Millwhistle and Bryan in their hood. I left work too late to sneak over to Rocketship, but our game of bar scrabble made it worth it. When someone at the bar said, " I love RSS feeds," I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, especially since this was that patron's drunken banter. No sweet one night stand action for her! I likely bemoaned the state of my finances and mental health a bit too much in my banter, lessening again my conversationalist rating by ten hit points. Sorry Mary!

Also: since I know my readers are intelligent, sensitive folks with a great love of English and personal essaying, I know that submitting a sensible, awesome essay to ruined music will be easy and fun for you. So do it.


Despite my need to check them occasionally for work, ScienceBlogs over at seed magazine have been a constant distraction the past few weeks. Ahh, the road unconsidered, then considered too late.


While you are thinking of ruined music ideas, pitch me something for


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nothing is Terrible by Matthew Sharpe

Another rushed review by a bad library patron.

Nothing is Terrible is the story of Mary, an orphan sent to live with her uninterested uncle and aunt after her parents die in a car crash. From the opening sentence of the book in the prologue chapter called “I Die” we know things aren’t going to be easy sailing for Mary:

“’That girl isn’t normal, and neither is the boy,’ I overheard my uncle say to my aunt late on summer night…”

Her brother Paul is an invalid, sickly, yet overpowering and as Mary grows away from him and toward the outside world the tension of their interactions builds until a miraculous moment robs him of his power and ultimately his life. The ramifications for Mary make up the rest of the book. I really like the way Sharpe ties up the prologue and still somehow manages to capture the weirdness of when a child dies:

“This was his final puzzle, not a hard one. Then—at least this is the way I remember it—my brother became an idea.”

A little later sex intrudes as it does in its weird middle school way. The intrusion becomes life in a sadly humdrum tabloid way for Mary because of her remarkable and strange new teacher Skip Hartman. Sharpe tells it and doesn’t tell it in this way:

“The rest of the class, however, had joined Mittler [bully and emissary], and most of them had heard what he’d said, and what I’d said, and seen a few things they didn’t quite know how to see, and now they stood there, some of them staggering like people newly blind, as if they had used up all their eyesight looking at the strange pair of us. Skip Hartman took me by the elbow and led me to succor.”

So, an abandoned girl’s fantasy comes true, and a teacher in leather pants sees her as special, “loves” her and takes her away from her crappy life. Skip understands things about her no one else (even Mary herself) does (or tries to). They run off to New York and hide in a brownstone near Central Park.

“Sooner or later everyone finds a way to be mistreated. Some find it more easily than other: Skippy and I for example. But sometimes mistreatment is better than no treatment at all.”

And there it is, kids, the story of this book in that last sentence. Sharpe does a bunch of things to make this story flow, baldly exclaiming that no one knows the mind of a ten-year-old, really, dropped lines about people whose wishes come true, delicious details of new York life in the last decade and the body. He lets Mary grow up and rebel and get hurt and change and in fact, contrary to the exclamation of the first line of the book, she is normal, well, as normal as she can be. This is a feat in itself. The minor characters are great, something that comes through in his later books, which I plan on reviewing soon.

All in all I was swept away by the story and enjoyed seeing how Sharpe developed his premise and brought it to conclusion. Upon second reading the mechanics come through but I admired them, kinda like an English lesson where you are drunk and dancing the whole time.

What can I say? It’s time to receive my punishment from the tsking library staff.

Friday, July 20, 2007

New post at Topic here.

Anyone interested in writing or editing for can drop me a line here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stories from the Tube by Matthew Sharpe

Like an English class assignment gone terribly right, Stories from the Tube uses images and words from TV commercials of the past as a jumping off point for a successful collection of stories that show, under a somewhat jaded veneer, Sharpe’s ability to perfectly render what is so special about relationships between people.

Some of the instances are jokey. In “In the Snowy Kingdom,” based on an antiperspirant commercial, a man suffers an episode of unknown origin at a society function. His wife rushes to his side and commits a betrayal in his eyes by drawing attention to him. The end of the story has them clinging together in the Artic, playing out a perverse version of the life they once had, where the later version is not any less enjoyable.

Sharpe also has a great grasp on failing relationships and ones that have ended. On the end of the friendship of two middle-aged women:

“Breaking up, if that’s what you call it, with your best friend, is not like breaking up with your husband. For long stretches you convince yourself it’s fine. You’re gently devastated. It’s the kid of devastation that doesn’t seem to take a chunk out of your life. Rather, it’s immediately part of your life. Blends right in. Strange but familiar. You can’t believe that it’s happening, but it’s happening, and it’s happened before, but you’re not sure when. You’re looking at it a lot, you’re nodding, yes, this old thing. Even as you’re being devastated you’re also recovering. You’re setting out, tireless traveler. It’s way bigger than you, but you’re holding to it, on y our skinny, brittle legs you’re carrying it along and while carrying you’re sniffing, touching, tasting, testing, sampling all the moods your devastation has to offer. And it turns out you’ve sort of trained yourself for this sort of thing, because nobody but the most seasoned observer notices how badly you’re hobbled by this experience that is so awful, that is so much deeper than humiliation.

Hazel did continue to see Dina at night when she was asleep. In her vivid dreams, she and Dina took frequent walks in the country, arm in arm. They saw things the real Dina and Hazel rarely saw: blue sky, green trees, red and yellow flowers, birds, rainbows.

“What kind of bird is that, Hazel?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen such a bird.”
“ How about that one?”
“Don’t know.”

My other favorite story is “Dr. Mom,” about a mother that takes Robitussin’s (or whichever cough medicine) irritatingly condesending copy about “the mothers of America” and their “kind of medical training” to its conclusion when her son gets sick.

Mothers and sons, grandmothers and grand kid, father, daughter, friends and husbands, most of Sharpe’s stories are about two people relating. The stories about parents and children capture the mutual distrust and curiosity between them without ever belaboring the point. His later books also focus on twos, though his minor characters don’t disappoint. He writes about women well and his observations about them through male characters seem effortlesslytrue. The stories he spins from commercials and their mini-narratives are twisted and true and much more entertaining than any Super Bowl budget buster.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Test your mettle! Win prizes!

All you writers and cartoonists take heed, the first contest in tryharderland has come.

The challenge: make a story from this spam header: "Brian LaBovick: I think it was an accumulation of things."

The prize: a box of books and other assorted goodies from me to you and your story published here.

The deadline: July 30th, 2007

The rules: you must be over 18, one entry per entrant, original work only (no "It was a dark and stormy Brian LaBovick"), one winner (unless I change my mind), you retain the rights but I get first publishing, no spam, no viruses, no epics please. I have the right to consider only entries I want to consider. Basically, I am the judge and the jury here and in this kangaroo court, awesomeness can trump all rules.

The gauntlet has been thrown, my friends.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Experimental Awesomeness

From the Forum for Urban Design:

"Together with Storefront for Art and Architecture, we're producing a splashy exhibition of European bike-share programs, running a free-bike-rental experiment, and hosting a design charette. The big question is whether New York can install a bike-share system, and if so, what it would look like. We'll be having New Yorkers stopping by Storefront July 7-11—taking free bikes for a whirl, participating in the charette—and there will be public presentations at 6 pm on July 9, 10 and 11. We'll be video-blogging in real-time, and it'll be a very festive, photogenic experience.

What is a bike-share?

Imagine walking to a sidewalk corner and finding a public bicycle. With a cellphone call or swipe of a card, you unlock it from its bike rack and ride it across town. Once at your destination, you steer to the closest bike rack and, with one more call or card swipe, return the bike to the public network. You pay less than $.50 for the trip, and the bike is once again available for the taking.

Why is this the time for New York to consider a bike-share network?
Last week the MTA admitted that subways are at or above capacity. The proposed solution: congestion pricing, which will raise funds for mass transit capital improvements. Of course, the most immediate effect of congestion pricing will be even more crowded subways. So what's needed is an alternative that is relatively cheap to finance and quick to build out. Bike-sharing is both of those things. It also happens to be the greenest transportation alternative around.

Can it happen here?

Four days after our project ends, Paris will open it's new system, which will include 10,000 bikes at 750 stations scattered around the city. That's more than twice as many bike stations as metro stops. Paris' program is the biggest yet, but it's just one of dozens currently running or in the works. Honestly, I'm not sure whether the idea can be scaled up to the size of New York City, but we've created this project in order to find out. Come join us!"

For more information go here.
Image from the Forum


Well I guess my departure from public health/green blogging didn't last long! Just so you know, the Executive Director of the Forum is also the founder and EIC of Topic. Obviously, his brain needs to be cloned.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Let me step away from my hippie blogging to let you know some wordy things:

Maureen F. McHugh (or MFM for all you long-timers and soon-to-be-disappointed googlers) has a blog. Austin Kleon links to her on his blog, because they are friends. MFM also knows Darby from the great site thumb drives and oven clocks. She was his teacher. I am so jealous. Also, the world is small.


Wonderful, scrabulous...


Yesterday at work I was being very distracting to my boss by rambling on about my favorite authors. We talked about Mary Roach and I said that Stiff made me more interested in nonfiction, so she gave me a copy of The Knife Man by Wendy Moore, a book about John Hunter, "father of modern surgery." I cracked it right after leaving work to get some ramen and at the bar, gazing out onto boiling pots of broth and noodles, I delved into the abscess-filled world of Georgian England. So far, so good.