Thought and Memory, by Ed Park
Ed Park has quite the résumé. He’s the former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the founding editors of the Believer. He’s taught creative writing at Columbia University and curates the Invisible Library, an online collection of fictional books that appear in other books. Pretty cool, huh? These days he holds down the literary fort over at Amazon Publishing. His debut novel, Personal Days, was called the “layoff narrative for our times” by the New YorkTimes and was nominated for the PEN Hemingway Award, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. It was named one of Time’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2008 and one of the Atlantic’s Top Ten Pop Culture Moments of the decade.
In his increasingly valuable spare time, he makes bootleg covers of 80s new-wave songs and sneaks acrostics and anagrams into his very funny Twitter feed, @thaRealEdPark. (A recent tweet: “I need there to be a store called FOREVER 41.”) Somehow he still manages to knock out essays that examine continuums you didn’t even realize exist, like the connection between the magical logic of children’s books and Borges, plus write great short stories like the one below.
In “Thought and Memory,” the author of a mystery novel sets out on a book tour, and from there, things don’t exactly go as planned. The narrator encounters two talking crows, named for Odin’s information-gathering ravens in Norse mythology, who belong to a mysterious woman with a glass eye and an oddly chosen tattoo, before discovering the bizarre, time-bending novels of a science fiction writer, whose works we hope will get call numbers at the Invisible Library.
We paired Ed’s story with illustrations by San Francisco-based artist Yina Kim. We thought her work evoked the same sense of spectral absurdity, softened by an eerie and familiar pathos.
Back in 2008, when my first novel, A Tree Grows in Baghdad, came out, my publisher sent me on a West Coast tour. Sometimes folks came out in droves, sometimes they didn’t. It was great to see my public, regardless. The public, I suppose I should say. Most hadn’t read the book. And even though it was fiction, based more on stuff I’d heard about rather than experienced, I might as well have told all present that I’d written a memoir, and that in the pages open before me, every vegetarian pita eaten, and every thought thought, was true. No one cared about the book, really, only about what I’d been through in Iraq, and what my current position on the war was and whether I wanted to go back.
The audience tended to be older. The men were what you’d call barrel chested. The women, too.
I found I liked signing books. I mean, the actual pen-meeting-paper part. I started appending a peace sign to my name. I must have shaken a thousand hands.
By the end of the week, I was going a little crazy. In Seattle, I woke up at 6 AM to do a live interview with a radio station in LA. But why six? The cities were in the same time zone. It must be for a station no one listens to, I thought, and after I hung up the phone, I wasn’t convinced that an interview had in fact taken place. Had she really asked me about my health, my diet, my bad back? Had I perhaps called my mother, out of instinct, or simply dreamt it all? I’ve had dreams like that, where I think I wake up, but I’m still asleep. I’ve had dreams in which I slap the alarm clock, over and over again, until I’m finally sprung from the clutches of sleep, grateful and gasping for air.
Over the next two months, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we will be featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei funny,” “Taipei food,” Taipei babies,” and “Taipei animals,” among others. The images were taken between January and February 2013 during one of his semi-yearly visits to the Taiwanese capital, where his parents live. This first selection is titled “Taipei babies.” All photos and captions by Tao Lin.
Taipei, will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published in 2011 titled “Relationship Story,” click here.
100 Literary Rumors
I don’t know what you’ve heard but I’ve heard a lot of shit. People whispering in hallways and Gmail chatting about all kinds of dark secrets. People up in parties with their coat and hair all looking nice and their mouth just full of you wouldn’t even want to know. I’ll tell you anyway.
Lydia Davis can’t stand the sight of children wearing bike helmets.
Richard Brautigan never crossed state lines except on foot.
Jack London loved braiding men’s hair.
Matthew Rohrer claims to have never been inside or seen an ad for Chili’s.
Jack Kerouac was addicted to licking stamps.
Jhumpa Lahiri has collected more than 200 personally autographed headshots of Al Pacino.
“’Wow, cool sky!’” was the original first sentence of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
Gertrude Stein was on the payroll of the New York Mets.
Virginia Woolf passed the bar exam in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maine.
T.C. Boyle ghostwrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire.
Gordon Lish religiously eats at the Applebee’s on Times Square on the 13th and 18th of every month.
Michiko Kakutani‘s Gmail password is wolfdickfourteen.
Barry Hannah hated the sight of charcoal.
Gary Lutz has beaten Mike Tyson’s Punch Out more than 400 times.
From ages eight to 18, Ann Beattie earnestly believed she was born wrapped in a shower curtain.
Dave Eggers bathes in almond milk every Sunday and video records it.
Thomas Bernhard hated the color blue until the creation of Cookie Monster.
Angela Carter had an erotic fixation on pumping gas.
The wallpaper on Mary Jo Bang’s laptop is a photograph of Rod Stewart holding a baby up to the sun.
George Orwell wore a cock ring 24/7.
Andre Breton lost tens of thousands of dollars due to his inability to remember a flush beats a straight.
Marco Roth believes people who drive white cars are innately selfish by definition.
Samuel Beckett lost every game of chess he ever played by eventually conceding.
Karen Russell owns an original audio recording of Carmelo Anthony reading Gravity’s Rainbow aloud from beginning to end.
Joyelle McSweeney once threw a football so hard she burst all the veins in her right arm and had to have the arm surgically replaced with a fake.
Paul Auster has responded to over 8,000 missed connections ads on craigslist under various pseudonyms.
Though he can see fine, Michael Martone prefers to read in Braille.
Ron Silliman started a Kickstarter campaign under a pseudonym attempting to raise funds to buy the RZA’s childhood home.
Italo Calvino peed sitting down.
Zanesville – New Fiction by Nathaniel Rich
Illustrations by Conor Nolan
Nathaniel Rich is 32 years old, and he’s written and accomplished more than you will if you live to be 100. His novel The Mayor’s Tongue, published a few years after he graduated from college, was praised by the New YorkTimes and everyone else who’s not illiterate, and it earned him comparisons to a young Paul Auster. Nathaniel’s new novel, Odds Against Tomorrow, comes out in April from Farrar, Straus and Giroux and will no doubt earn him similar praise. On the side, he’s also worked as an editor at the Paris Review and cranked out brilliant essays and journalism for the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and… well, you get the idea. He was inspired to write “Zanesville” after hearing the real-life tale of Terry Thompson, who killed himself a few years ago after releasing 56 tigers, bears, lions, wolves, leopards, and monkeys from the animal refuge he ran in Ohio. All names and details in Nathaniel’s short story, however, are entirely fictional. (Except for the bit about the monkey having a nasty case of herpes. That’s totally true.) “Zanesville” is Nathaniel’s first story for VICE.
If only Roger had bought the rabbit. Harriet had already picked one out, a mangy albino with red eyes like embers, but her heart wasn’t in it. Harriet’s heart wasn’t in anything, really, not since her visit to Dr. Doom. She said she had chosen the albino rabbit because it seemed like the saddest one. But all of them seemed sad to Roger. Not just the rabbits—every animal that wheezed and shrieked and rattled its cage at WeLuvPets!: the black-eyed ferret, who looked like he’d been socked in a bar fight; the degu trailing his long skinny tail like a strand of saliva; and especially the hedgehog, worrying a crumpled ball of newspaper until he fell sideways, panting from exhaustion, his quivers trembling in panic.
Between the incessant screeching of the cockatiels (“Help!” they yelled. “Help-help-help-HELP-HELP-HELLLLLP!”) and the odor—a soupy miasma of damp fur, urine-soaked hay, and formaldehyde deodorizers—Roger could feel a full-blown migraine coming on. A dark hand gripped his brain stem and began to squeeze. He handed Harriet his credit card and told her she could choose whatever damn rabbit she wanted. He’d be waiting outside by their bikes.
But on his way out he was distracted at the cash register by a pair of gleaming eyes. They stared from a glossy brochure, Exotic Pets 4 Sale. He recognized those eyes. He had seen them before, a decade earlier, during the war—it must have been somewhere in Quảng Trị province. His platoon had set up an ambush in a dense thicket of acacia and evergreen. He remembered the heat most vividly; he would never forget that, the sun much closer to the earth than it ever got in the States. Also the obsessive humidity, the weight of his jungle boots, the exuberant sucking of the mud, the mysterious fringe of yellow crust that formed on his neck where his steel helmet touched his skin. And he remembered that he had been lying under his thatch cover for nearly five hours, trying not to flinch too violently every time a blood-brown leafhopper flew into his mouth, when he’d felt a tug on his left boot. He turned, expecting to find Collins or one of the others, but he could only make out a bulky shadow advancing through the blackness like a floating blanket. There followed a loud, anguished scream. Roger and the other men, forgetting their training, leaped wildly from their positions, just in time to see a 400-pound cat dragging Collins by his ankle across the forest carpet.
The tiger, surrounded by the adrenalized soldiers, made an easy target. Its flank was perforated by approximately 80 rounds of ammunition. Collins escaped with only several light lacerations along his calves. The men dragged their trophy through the high grass to their next position. The Hueys weren’t scheduled to retrieve them for another 48 hours, however, and they worried that in the jungle heat the animal would rot. One of them had mentioned that tannic acid, which was used for curing deer hides, was present in urine. Two days later, back at camp, the five marines posed for grinning photographs next to the piss-pickled carcass.
Roger found Harriet at the register with Bunnicula and a five-pound sack of alfalfa.
“Honey,” he said, and Harriet looked up abruptly because he never called her that anymore. “I got a different idea.”
Anne of Green Gables Is Now Totally Boneable
This is what Anne looks like on the new cover. Anne of Green Gables should not be jerk-off fodder, but here we are.
The new book jacket of Anne of Green Gables has been causing a stir among fans of the book, who say that (paraphrasing): “That whore is not Anne of Green-fucking-Gables.”
It might be a coming-of-age story, but this edition really seems to focus on the “of-age” aspect—as in, “barely legal.” Furthermore, enough of the plot is predicated on her red hair to suggest that whoever took this photo didn’t bother reading the book. What is this, fifth grade? Read the book before you hand in your assignment, cover art designer dude.
Based on this cover, I would guess that Anne of Green Gables is the sultry tale of a romp in the barn with the farmer’s daughter, not a story about a spunky, adventurous, red-headed orphan with her own unique sensibilities.
Sewing for the Heart
Art by Kike Besada.
Yoko Ogawa writes creepy, ominous gothic novels and stories—sort of like a Japanese Flannery O’Connor or Shirley Jackson. Except sexier and a lot more Asian. She came to prominence in the late 80s in her native Japan and has since written more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, all of them commercially and critically viable.
Hotel Iris (2010), for instance, tells the story of Mari, a teenage girl who works in a desolate hotel by the ocean. When she falls into a twisted romance with an older man, a translator of Russian novels who may or may not have murdered his wife and who also likes to beat and humiliate Mari during sex, the teenager has a realization: “It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” she thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”
“Sewing for the Heart” is from Yoko’s new collection, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Picador February 2013), and it’s as perversely tantalizing as anything she’s written. In the story, a comely cabaret singer with the outlandish birth defect of a heart that developed outside her body hires a reclusive bag maker to sew a satchel to protect the misplaced organ.
We’ve paired this story with Spanish artist Kike Besada’s collages. Kike dug through old medical journals that he found in an NYC thrift store and cut out pictures of bags, hearts, hospitals, and all sorts of other things in order to come up with just the right macabre imagery for a story that is heartfelt in the most literal sense.
“Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Please contact the pharmacy immediately.”
The public-address system had been repeating this announcement for some time. I wondered who Dr. Y was and where he could be, as I studied the hospital directory. Central Records, Electroshock Clinic, Conference Center, Endoscopy… It was all like a foreign language to me.
“Why do they keep paging this Dr. Y?” I asked the woman behind the information desk.
“No one’s seen him this morning,” she said. She seemed annoyed by my question, and I was sorry I had bothered her.
“Could you tell me where to find the cardiac ward?” I said, getting to my real question. I pronounced each word slowly and carefully, hoping to quiet the pounding of my heart.
“Take that elevator to the sixth floor.” She pointed past a crowd of people gathered in front of admitting; I noticed her nail polish was chipped.
I am a bag maker. For more than 20 years now I’ve kept a shop near the train station. It’s just a small place, but it has a nice display window facing the street. Inside, there are tables for the bags and a mirror, and a workshop in back, behind a curtain, with shelves for my materials. The window features a few purses, an ostrich handbag, and a suitcase. A jauntily posed mannequin clutches one of the purses, but her face is covered in a fine layer of dust since I haven’t changed the window in years.
I live on the second floor, above the shop. My apartment has just two rooms—an eat-in kitchen and a living room that doubles as my bedroom—but the place is bright and pleasant. On clear afternoons, the sun streams in through the window and I have to move the hamster’s cage under the washstand. Hamsters don’t like direct sunlight.
In the evening, after closing shop, I go upstairs, take off my work clothes, shower, and eat my dinner. This takes next to no time. When you live alone as I have for many years, daily life only becomes simpler and simpler. It’s been a long time since I’ve cleaned up the bathroom for someone, or changed the towels, or so much as made dressing for my salad. I have only myself to please, and that doesn’t take much.
But compared to the world upstairs, my life with my bags below is quite rich. I never weary of them, of caressing and gazing at my wonderful creations. When I make a bag, I begin by picturing how it will look when it’s finished. Then I sketch each imagined detail, from the shiny clasp to the finest stitches in the seams. Next, I transfer the design to pattern paper and cut out the pieces from the raw material, and then finally I sew them together. As the bag begins to take shape on my table, my heart beats uncontrollably and I feel as though my hands wield all the powers of the universe.
I was about an hour into my interview with Merry Prankster elder statesman Ken Babbs when he suddenly jumped up and announced that we needed to have an “outside adventure.” This sort of erratic suggestion would have been kind of weird and off-putting coming from anyone else. But for Babbs—the Merry Prankster who helped Ken Kesey teach the hippies how to be hippies—the impulsive and unexpected come naturally.
It’s been almost half a century since Babbs, Kesey, and the Pranksters painted technicolor murals across their 1939 Harvester school bus, stocked it full of acid, and drove from LA to New York’s 1964 World Fair—a trip that later inspired the Beatles to write The Magical Mystery Tour. The Pranksters and their driver, Neal Cassady, who was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, went on to party with the Hell’s Angels, live side-by-side with the Grateful Dead, and host psychedelic sensory orgies called Acid Tests. Their exploits were captured in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Time has been good to Babbs. At 73, he still bursts with energy and ideas even if he no longer looks like the spry, DayGlo weirdo from Tom Wolfe’s book. These days, he dresses like a grandfather. When I met him, he had on a fedora, a button-up shirt, and loose-fitting stonewashed jeans. As he told it, the conservative clothes are Prankster tools of deception. They let him slip around unnoticed. But his tie-dye socks still peeked out from under his cuffs.
I visited Babbs at his home back in October. He lives on a few acres of land in the woods outside of Eugene, Oregon, with his wife in an eccentric barn-style house that he built himself. The place smells of old books and Triscuits and, of course, it didn’t have a normal bathroom. Instead, there were two stalls with multicolored seats sitting right in the living room. If someone had taken a shit, you would’ve seen their feet dangling from the dining room table. My hungover photographer, who desperately needed to drop some friends off at the pool, kept his cheeks clenched the whole time we were there.
Babbs has collected so much historical detritus from his life with the Pranksters he had to build ramshackle sheds around his property to house it all. He lead me to one of these sheds for our “outside adventure.” It hadn’t been opened for decades. There wasn’t even a door. When we took a screw gun to the shed’s wall and Babbs and I peered inside, I felt like Geraldo Rivera at Al Capone’s vault. Babbs dove in and started tossing out DayGlo toilet seats, psychedelic piano keyboards, and handfuls of tie-dye trinkets. He riffed on each item we dug up except for the giant “WHUMP!” banner. He let that one speak for itself.
Basically, Babbs lives in a museum. It’s funny that the guy who always played the lighthearted counterweight to Kesey is now the Prankster’s myth builder, spending his days among his artifacts, spouting off quotes that he attributes to Kesey—even though I’m pretty sure he makes them up on the spot.
In the midst of excavating his shed and avoiding his bathroom, I managed to talk with Babbs about pioneering the acid culture, what happened to their bus named Furthur, and how it feels to build a personal mythology.
VICE: Hey Ken, the life you’ve led has become a modern legend. How much of it all was real and how much was revisionist history?
Ken Babbs: People always ask, “Was this true? Was that true?” I say “Absolutely.” Our story has been retold so much that it has become myth. If all the people who said they were on that bus when we went to New York City in 1964 laid end-to-end, it would be about ten miles long. The really neat thing is that, as time goes on, the myth continues to grow. Everybody is adding to it. It’s getting huge. And then, a long time will pass, and it will be like Homer finally writing about Achilles. It’ll be condensed down into just the essence. I’d like to be around in 1,000 years and see what this myth will be condensed down into.
You’ll be the new Saint Peter.
I doubt that. Kerouac was the saint. We called him Saint Jack.
He was the holy dharma bum, the holy Beat, who saw that the “beat” was for “beatitude.” He blew soul. He sacrificed his life by drinking so much. He had to do that in order to keep his center centered. A lot of people drop out that way. It’s a sad story.
PRELUDE TO ‘SOLO PIANO MUSIC’ -
WHY THE WORLD SHOULD READ SYRIA’S FAWWAZ HADDAD
Artwork by Khaled Akil
yrian writers have been marginalized for decades, left to languish on the Middle Eastern edge of a genre that is often reductively labeled “world lit.” Since the March 8, 1963, coup d’état that brought the Ba’ath Party (and later the Assads) to power, loyalty to the state has been a defining aspect of the country’s literature. The distinctions between “faithful” and “treasonous” writing are determined by a convoluted array of institutions, ranging from the General Union of Arab Writers to Ba’ath Party officials; however, the censorship matrix in Syria doesn’t neatly fit into Western notions of “freedom” and “totalitarianism.” Writers in Syria must operate under conditions that, in my opinion, can best be described as “freedom with restrictions.”
Syrian writers are particularly well positioned to comment on the historical progress and degradation of the political situation in their country even though many are persecuted. Novels banned in Syria can still be smuggled in from neighboring Lebanon. But a ban functions as a scarlet letter for authors, a way for the government to distinguish between who is with them and who is against.
Like much of the literary elite in Syria, the novelist Fawwaz Haddad has watched his country disintegrate over the past 20 months without explicitly taking an outspoken position for or against the regime. As an author, he evinces a fusion of clear-eyed realism and careful optimism in his assessment of the Syrian situation. He signed off one recent email to me expressing his wish that we would see each other soon, “once peace arrives in my country.” But as his homeland falls deeper into civil war, Fawwaz’s neutrality may have reached its limit. He has left the country, although he intends to return to Syria, as much of his family is still there.
Fawwaz was born in Damascus in 1947 and studied law before moving on to work in the private sector. His early writings consisted of historical fiction, with an emphasis on Syria during the French Mandate and the early days of its independence. But he was a late bloomer—Mosaic Damascus ’39, his debut novel, wasn’t published until he was 44. His more recent work has veered toward hard-boiled realism, which has vastly increased his notoriety. In 2009, Fawwaz was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel The Unfaithful Translator and in 2011 long-listed for God’s Soldiers. His stories explore the limits placed on the state and Syrian society, zig-zagging between high-minded principles and the dirty business of everyday life while offering insight into the workings of a broken system—one that seems impervious to both reform and revolution.
Fawwaz’s 2009 Solo Piano Music, an excerpt of which appears over the following pages for the first time in English, tells the story of Fateh al-Qalaj, a solitary secular intellectual who is assaulted in the stairwell of his Damascus apartment building. After he’s paid a visit by an investigator from the shady Terrorism Affairs Bureau, Fateh comes to believe that he is being targeted for his outspoken views on religion and the state.
In this Kafkaesque crime novel, the dance between “the investigator” and “the secular intellectual” is central to the narrative tension. Following Fateh’s assault, a childhood friend pays him a visit while he is recovering in the hospital. Fateh’s old friend reveals that he is mixed up with radical Islamists, and the role he played in the assault grows ever murkier.
In the book’s climax, the Syrian regime violently stamps out the perceived terrorist threat. Fateh is left feeling remorse for the murdered “terrorists.” He questions whether the Terrorism Affairs investigator had been lying to him, and whether he even works for the government. Fateh comes to the bleak conclusion that one has to rely on oneself alone.
Read Solo Piano Music.
Verbal Paintings of Cartoon Dogs Sexting - An Interview with Patricia Lockwood (Plus an Excerpt From Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, Which You Should Buy)
Patricia Lockwood has a brain seemingly designed to blow up Twitter. Her feed is full of cartoon tween j/o bait and hyper-fantasy sexy stuff like “I am a living male turtleneck. You are an art teacher in winter. You put your whole head through me,” and “I go up to heaven and open God’s Bible. It contains only a single sext: ‘Im hard.’” From the same brain now erupts her first book, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, which is covered in nude Popeye dogs walking calmly in a blue horde. The book is equally rigorous and insane, squashing deep into the squishy curves of the unconscious, where all that childhood cartoon sound and whale-sized dreams of death are housed. It invokes something nameless about why we try to create things, how those things we create feel about us, and the bizarre architectures in between.
Here’s some more about Patricia:
Blake: Favorite cartoon/show as a child?
Patricia: GUMMI BEARS, which I watch to this day. What you have to do is get the reddest juice you can find and put it in a salad cruet and then GULP IT at the exact moment the Gummi Bears drink the Gummiberry juice and then you get a great feeling like you have done something exactly right for once in your life.
Favorite cartoon/show now?
DuckTails, because even though I do not like money I want to touch millions of a thing at once and be touched by millions of a thing at once and only Scrooge McDuck in his little bathing suit seems to need that as much as I do.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Always a writer. Though at one point I got the idea that that was impractical and decided to be “a voice actor” instead, which lasted until I realized what a truly terrible saxophone I had for a voice.
What is your favorite part of anatomy?
Cowlicks are the most textual to me.
What is your favorite planet?
Trick question? The moon, idiot.
What position do you sleep in?
Completely facedown like I’m trying to sink into the center of the Earth.
Song you remember for a particular reason?
“Knees Up Mother Brown,” by Raffi. What’s going on? Is Mother Brown a prostitute? I just have no idea.
Do you like candy?
I do NOT like candy and the people who eat it deserve their sticky nasty hands. And I hate them.