Publications
Outside on the Night Shift Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20110802(San Diego Reader August 2, 2011)

“Basically,” says Aaron Meleen, a deputy sheriff traffic investigator working the night shift in Poway, “we don’t have much going on right now.” It’s a Monday evening, the onset of his 12½-hour shift, and we’re strapped in his shock-worn Crown Vic, bouncing out of the station onto Civic Center Drive. The cruiser’s front compartment is a mélange of computer screen, keyboard, gun rack, intercom, dash-mounted radar scope, and handheld devices such as a cell phone and a clip-on video camera. Meleen, 27, sports a slicked-back hairstyle, short sidewalls with pronounced sideburns — a bit Guido, a bit Presley. Perhaps it’s the holstered gun or his cockpit of electronic gear that makes him seem unruffled. What will surprise me is just how fast he can Jekyll-and-Hyde that peace officer’s calm to an arresting tough.

Soon the radio dispatcher’s got his ear. The car’s GPS screen blips a code, brackets an address: fellow deputy Darrin Smith and his partner are at a “family disturbance,” two minutes away. Before Meleen can explain his night’s tasks, mostly stopping drivers for vehicle violations, we’re on our way, the Crown Vic responding with giddy-up enthusiasm. Pulling into an apartment complex, he says, “You’re welcome to come along but hang back a little. If you see any guns, let me know. It’s always nice to have an extra pair of eyes.”

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Authoring Ourselves Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

shelved_1(Fiddleback August 2011)

The cover of The New Yorker, October 18, 2010, by Roz Chast, is titled, “Shelved.” The cartoon features a young man, whom I’ll call Jimmy, sitting in an overstuffed comfy chair, a laptop opened on his knees, headphone buds stuck in his ears. What’s Jimmy doing? Reading? Listening? Watching? Perhaps all three. All three at once. Whatever Jimmy’s absorbed by, the eight-and-one-half shelves of books above and behind him are reacting. Faces on spines (the eyes-nose-mouth motif) are angry, indifferent, surprised, chagrined, shocked, curious. Many of the books appear to have their personalities, perhaps reflecting the book’s contents, captured in their gaze. For every enraged expression (How dare you! This is a library) there’s another look which seems powerless—after all, what can books do to counter the realm Jimmy occupies other than bemoan his disinterest or their fate?

Roz Chast’s comment seems obvious: the books have been shelved, forgotten, abandoned. Their grand era is no more.

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Review: The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning by Maggie Nelson Print E-mail
Criticism

maggie_nelson(The Rumpus July 11, 2011)

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Permit me, briefly, a naiveté. Had I thought about art and cruelty together, I would have said, yes, writers, painters, filmmakers depict a good deal of cruelty: Goya, Kafka, Tarantino, not to mention the emotionless airheads puppeteered by novelist Brett Easton Ellis or the one-night pain stands of performance artist Chris Burden, whose most memorable gig was having a friend shoot him in the arm on stage. But since such shock and shudder has such limited appeal (just because a lot of authors write transgressive fiction doesn’t mean they’re being read), I would not have guessed that any critic would insist such acts are artful. Really, there’s more to Less Than Zero than its minimalist deadpan? It seems that cruelty and art risk being too car-wreck enthralling, too Casey-Anthony obsessive.

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Review: Otherwise Known As the Human Condition by Geoff Dyer Print E-mail
Criticism

otherwise_known_as_the_human_condition_-_geoff_dyer(Contrary Magazine Summer 2011)

The Non-Expert Expert

No writer I know occupies as many rooms in the storied compound of arts criticism as Geoff Dyer. In Graywolf’s mix of Dyer’s two British-published anthologies (one in 1999; the other, 2010), the peripatetic author traverses photography, film, music, and literary criticism; he also plumbs the well of the personal essay.

Dyer, who’s written three well-reviewed novels, is a world traveler, autodidact, and essayist. He’s a master of the non-expert essay: self-examining pieces and books that use, among other things, photography, D.H. Lawrence, and the Battle of the Somme as his way in. He’s disciplined and ambitionless, an unrepentant time-waster, avoiding, he says proudly, all hard work. Dyer takes his time discovering—and taking apart—his interests, contrasting invention and analysis in each piece he writes.

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Review: Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Gimenez Smith Print E-mail
Criticism

Bring_Down_the_Little_Birds_cover(Contrary Magazine March 2011)

Motherhood, Disenthralled

This slim memoir is soaked in the partum-based worry many mothers-to-be endure. The birth year Giménez Smith covers overlaps with her mother’s prognosis of, and treatment for, a brain tumor. These threads, as well as some fictive turns and angry toddlers, are laced together, making for a strangely eloquent and fragmented meditation on motherhood’s woe. Few joys of pregnancy intrude—pickles and ice cream and padding around the house barefoot. A poet, editor, and teacher, Giménez Smith is too honest a writer to row that clichéd river.

For the author, a second child and the family’s ensuing chaos guarantee lost time—away from her students, husband, and writing. How will she survive? How did her mother do it? How will she bear her mother’s illness? And then how quickly she feels guilty and possessive, constantly making adjustments: “There are no amateurs in the world of children.”

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Review: This Is Your Brain Reading: On Books, On Screens Print E-mail
Criticism

innovative-design(The Rumpus February 22, 2011)

Books & Articles Reviewed:

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain Maryanne Wolf (Harper)

Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read Stanislas Dehaene (Penguin)

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains Nicholas Carr (Norton)

“From Print to Pixel” Kevin Kelly Smithsonian July/August 2011

***

Will the ironies that plague the demise of print never end? Just as neuroscience arrives to explain how the brain evolved our reading and writing abilities, which leapt the furthest forward via Gutenberg’s press, the once-stable enterprise of discrete book and private reader is being recast by new digital text platforms, Web page, eBook, and iPhone. What’s more publishing on paper, linear thinking, literary hierarchies, metanarrative legitimacy, not to mention the humanist claims of literacy and democracy, all are being remade. Only five hundred years into movable type and the Enlightenment/Romantic/Modern culture it begat—and suddenly we are flummoxed by how short our dwelling in the kingdom of print will be.

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Now, Where Was I? On Maggie Nelson's "Bluets" Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Jet

(TriQuarterly February 2011)

The author Maggie Nelson, born in 1973, has authored half-a-dozen books, among them poetry collections, memoirs, and nonfiction. Bluets may be her finest work. It is a set of two-hundred-and-forty loosely linked fragments. Each numbered fragment is either a sentence or a short paragraph, none longer than two-hundred words. The book totals some nineteen-thousand words. The work hybridizes several prose styles and verges on the lyric essay. The themes of lost love and existential aloneness come to dominate, bathed in a kind of blued longing.

Nelson utilizes memoir, philosophy, quotation, analysis, scientific exposition and query, meditation, and more, each in stylistic miniature. Subjects include an ex-lover and a friend who’s been paralyzed, but the majority of the text features her analyzing her reading, often deferring to others’ comments (including Leonard Cohen, Joseph Cornell, and Joan Mitchell) on blue. She’s not the only one so smitten by a color. Nelson combines spiritual inquiry with erotic obsession, searches for beauty and gets hung up on memories. As she criss-crosses sorrow and wonder, doubt and desire, her tone darkens.

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