The Strange Story of Our Earth

The library here, in this creaky old hunter’s cabin by the side of the road, is a weird mix of books about machines, nature, and Christianity–with titles such as Bear!, Fix Your Chevrolet, Cowpokes Ride Again, Old Gun Catalogs, Best Ways to Catch More Fish in Fresh and Salt Water, Is the Bible REALLY the Word of God?, and Father Smith Instructs Jackson, a instructional manual for Catholicism written entirely in Socratic dialogue form.

But my favorite so far is The Strange Story of Our Earth, a science book for kids, published in 1952. It reads like science written by Nabokov’s Kinbote; in other words, you might hope that a book about something “strange” would answer questions, but instead it leaves them dangling and convoluted, the author preferring to pick fights with unnamed enemies. I can’t imagine a kid reading this and not wanting to run the hell away from science, screaming.

This is the book’s final paragraph:

If the ancient inhabitants of America domesticated the Megatherium why shouldn’t they have domesticated other creatures including the horses? At all events even if some scientists will not admit that the first Americans originated in America they must admit that the Americans were the first men to domesticate large animals, for as far as known, dogs were the only animals domesticated by the men of the Old World at the time.

Why should they not have indeed? replies the 10-year-old in the early fifties, making a mental note to give the humanities a closer look.

“strangely likable American oddities”

Now live: the site I made for Scott Snyder. It’s not dissimilar to the site I made for Colson Whitehead, in the way that I set up Movable Type so that Scott can post news about readings, reviews, etc. I borrowed all the design elements from the design of Scott’s book, Voodoo Heart, which is damn cool looking. (The code itself is a weird hodgepodge of HTML and CSS, but the site still seems to work, and look good, on different platforms. Sometimes it feels like trying to build a whole house out of Tinkertoys, with no blueprints, while wearing sunglasses. You look at the thing you made and think, is that really standing up?)

Scott has the most amazing Stephen King blurb an author of a first book, a collection of stories, could possibly hope for (among many other fantastic blurbs, and a starred and signed PW review from Francine Prose). (People pay more attention to Stephen King’s enthusiasm than they do to, say, Michiko Kakutani’s dismay, right? I hope so.)

Tonight’s Featured Act

She was talking about going to hear Dawn Raffel read, but the words formed in my head as Don Raffle. Maybe the former is pronounced the same as the latter? Neither of us were sure. I started imagining what a writer like Don Raffle would be like. A Borscht Belt comedian of a writer. The Fozzie Bear of fiction. “How’s everybody doing tonight?” he hollers, stumbling out on stage in his tawdry suit and hat. He’s got a martini in one hand, microphone in the other, pages up his sleeve. Is his voice Fozzie’s, or Krusty the Clown’s? There’s feedback from the PA. “Are you ready for some short stories?” The last word drawn out like taffy. Oh yes. It’s late, the audience is drunk, it’s a long drive home, the audience wants to be entertained. Maybe literary fiction should be more like bawdy jokes about farmers’ daughters and popes walking into bars, priests and hookers and presidents on lifeboats. I think I want to be Don Raffle.

More on the Q&A

What I remember: The conundrum of the bumblebee. Cueing fetishes, talismanic pages. Not knowing how to solve the problem of the project until you’re inside it. Ideas agglomerate. Roth: job is to make a book smarter than its author. Maugham, Mann: Waiting to write the bildungsroman. “I’m a great believer in bohemian life.” The value of the intimate and useless. Trillin on Babel via Wachtel: The human fact within the vale of circumstance. I heard the lyric as “monster eyes.” I was so happy the kangaroo was named Shelf.

Some Notes on Wyoming

—My new alarm clock: a woodpecker who seems to be drilling a hole in the eaves directly above my bedroom. It’s loud, like shuddering plumbing. He begins work at six, kicks off at half past seven. I’ve tried to discuss his schedule, but he refuses to negotiate.

—Cows enjoy watching you as you walk by them, as if you’re the cow equivalent of television. Once you’ve been in a landscape this still for a while, though, you start to look at them the same way.

—Last week we visited a tack shop. The walls were covered with spurs, stirrups, bits, whips, and bridles; the floor of the shop was full of saddles. I said, “I can’t look at this stuff and not think it’s all B&D gear.” Then I felt bad, like a snot-nosed easterner, and hoped the saleslady hadn’t hear me.

—I rode one of the bikes up the hill by the polyhedron house to the sand pile the other day to see if I could get a signal on my mobile phone. I could not, at least not at the base of the pile, but I didn’t climb to the very top, because then I got scared of the cows.

—Walking on the main drag downtown, and also over at the Wal-Mart, we noticed a number of cowboys sporting Lincoln beards. My first thought was, how cool for this to be a trend! Then I wondered if it would catch on back east. Then I realized that these guys were most likely actually Mennonites.

—Cows lowing in the night sound like a mobile phone set on vibrate going off in your bag. (Or vice versa, depending on how you look at it.) When they’re giving birth during a midnight snowstorm, though, it sounds like something else entirely.

—Yesterday morning at around eight we heard the whistle of a train that sounded close enough to plow right through the kitchen, like something out of Chris Van Allsburg. But where are there tracks? Up by the silos? Or was it maybe an eighteen-wheeler with a customized train-whistle horn? Is that even possible? I ran to the porch, scanned the horizon: nothing but the usual Angus-peppered hills.

Crappy Cam Blues

I want to post pictures to this page of Wyoming. The cows and horses, the scraggly trees burping up out of the river beds, the endless rolling foothills, the storms blowing in off the snowy peaks of the Big Horns, the annoying little field mouse nibbling at my power cord right now. Unfortunately, I’m having serious crappy cam troubles. The first one I got lasted for a little over a year before I made the mistake of taking it to the beach—those of you with better eyes than mine might have noticed, in the pictures I posted in late December and early January (here, here, and here), that there’s this annoying little dot in the middle right of each picture (the ones that have a light background, anyway). And the speck causing the dot appears to be on the inside of the lens—which is not at all removable, and is the size of a ball bearing. A very, very tiny ball bearing.

I decided to try to replace my crappy cam, which meant tracking down a used one on this electronic auction bay Web site I just discovered. (Have you heard of this thing? It’s totally amazing!) The new old crappy cam I bought was scuffy, but seemed to work fine. Until last week, when the battery died. And now it won’t recharge. And the camera’s tiny little LED screen on the back displays strange, cryptic messages, accompanied by sad, desperate beepings, the meaning of which I can’t glean at all, except for a general sense that the poor thing’s guts are somehow seriously out of whack.

Will it recover? I hope so. We’ll see. With luck, I’ll have some pictures here soon.

By the way, Wyoming is totally fucking amazing.