Friday, January 28, 2011

The countdown begins: Literary Orange in 70 days

The countdown begins for Literary Orange. I'll be speaking on the adventure panel in the morning, and will stick around for the rest of the festival. See you April 9 in Southern California. (oops. In the previous post, I said it was 90 days. Whatever. I wasn't a math major.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading in Good Company: Bay Area book group leads Cactus Eaters discussion

Thank you to the newly launched Bay Area book group Reading in Good Company, which has chosen The Cactus Eaters as its inaugural choice and invited me to participate. I will be there for the discussion, which will take place at 1 p.m. on February 12 at the Atherton Public Library in Atherton, Ca. Forgot to mention that this is a casual pot luck so bring a dish.

This Mothra photo is from the Toho archives.

Monday, January 24, 2011

36 Hours Anthologized

A slightly different version of my New York Times piece on Santa Cruz will be featured in an upcoming, illustrated travel anthology. Times Books will publish the book, in collaboration with Taschen Books.

Look for it this summer in your local bookstore. Meanwhile, the article also got picked up in the Huffington Post with comments.

The book version of the article won't mention my favorite tourist attraction in the entire idea, the Glaum Ranch Egg Vending Machine, but you can't have everything. I guess you'll just have to see the 24-hour chicken vending machine for yourself. Make sure to bring your own close-able egg cartons and three crisp dollar bills or you will regret it. I'm speaking from personal experience.

Another attraction that I did not mention: on Cayuga Street in Seabright, there's a history marker on one of the houses, close to the main entrance. The marker says, "In 1873, in this location, nothing happened."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where the cactus flowers grow: Robert Earl Keen rocks the Rio in Santa Cruz

Halfway through Robert Earl Keen's two-hour show at the Rio, he stopped to reflect on his days as a college student and country music fan. "We only played the good stuff," he said. "Carrie Underwood! Rascal Flatts! The fragile harmonies of Sugarland!"

He was being sarcastic, of course. Keen is a favorite of fans and critics, but he's never been a Nashville insider or had much affection for mainstream country radio. His songs about outlaws, oil workers, aspiring losers and faded border towns are edgier than most anything you'll hear on 99.5 F.M.

Judging from his between-the-songs banter, he's proud of the dues he's still paying: they're a clear sign of character. At one point, he talked about the box of moldering doughnuts that remains on the tour bus after three straight months, and his band's willingness to play a gig just about anywhere, including a festival with 4,000 fans and only two motels, or a down-in-the-mouth town in Mexico, where the lack of a green room forced the band to hang out in a potholed, trash-strewn alleyway near some vomiting college students and a possible corpse. (Not surprisingly, the motel and alleyway turn up in his songs.)

In the past, he seemed uneasy with the mixed crowd he tends to draw: the "frat boys from Abilene" who come to hear the rowdier stuff, the ever-reliable KPIG contingent, the curious hipsters and the bookish folks who like his quieter, more literary material. At one point, he coolly deflected a shouted request for an early raunchy sing-along, "Copenhagen", with a quick wink and a thumbs-up gesture.

But he seemed more comfortable last night, and he wasn't afraid to mix up the formula. He threw in a great Todd Snider cover ("Play A Train Song"), and he bookended an old song ("Dreadful Selfish Crime" between two familiar Grateful Dead melodies -- an instrumental of "China Cat Sunflower" and a full-tilt performance of "I Know You Rider," a traditional folk/blues song adopted by the Dead.

The slightly rejiggered band (missing the muddy fiddling, and with an added steel guitar player) offered a cleaner, more stripped down sound. The venue seemed to make more sense in the quieter moments, but less so during the noisy rave-ups; with all those rows of seats, the fans couldn't really dance unless they joined the manic scrum of folks to the left of the stage. REK had to work extra hard to whip the crowd into the briefest display of rowdiness.

All in all, I'm glad I went to this concert, and I don't have any real regrets about naming my cat after him, either.

Even if, technically speaking, it isn't my cat.

Toby Keith/REK

Heading to the concert now

Wondering if he'll mention the boring new Toby Keith song that rips off "The Road Goes On Forever.'' Will post something within the next week or so. I thought it was just my overactive imagination, but apparently the Courtyard Hounds agree with me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cat photo inundation begins in earnest

Oh man. I should have seen this coming. I post one lousy photo of a beer-drinking cat, and the cat photo avalanche begins in earnest.

Here is a photo taken by another reader, Carolyn L, who reports that her cat flies --- and she has photographic evidence to back this up.

I've got to say, this is a pretty amazing shot. And there's no trick photography in it.

Lazy blogger.... plus cat-naming controversy

My apologies for being a lazy blogger over the past couple of months.

Lots and lots going on.

And I sure do appreciate my blog readers (both of you.)

Incidentally, my own cat is just as fat and lazy as the one pictured here. But I don't think he drinks beer unless he sneaks it behind my back.

By the way, my cat happens to be named after the great singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen, who will be performing at the Rio Theatre this Thursday.

I am so there.

Forgot to mention that I sent an email to Robert Earl Keen's concert promoter about 10 years ago informing him of my decision to name the cat Robert Earl. To my surprise, I got an email response just a few minutes later, saying "Robert Earl is standing right here while I write this -- and he thinks that's a very bad idea.''

Friday, January 14, 2011

My very favorite book blogs

Here are the blogs

Here are my favorite book blogs. This is mostly for me so I don't have to keep searching for them individually. However, I think you'll enjoy them, and if you're an aspiring author, reading these sites is so much healthier than self-Googling or checking your infernal Amazon stats. In no particular order, here they are. The Millions. Maud Newton. Rumpus. Bookslut. Paper Cuts. Levi Stahl's I've Been Reading Lately. Koreanish. American Fiction Notes. The New Yorker’s Book Bench. Jacket Copy.

Coveted books:

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

Karen Russell, Swamplandia (put this at the top of your reading list; it's great)
Benjamin Percy, The Wilding
Leo Tolstoy, Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, Michael Scammell translation

Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies

Good books:

Brock Clarke: An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes In New England. (I give this book seven stars out of five. No, make that eight stars.)

Sigrid Nunez: Salvation City. (spare, plausible, creepy.)

Kobo Abe: The Woman in the Dunes (not new. You overlooked this when it came out.)

Emma Donaghue: Room

Julie Orringer: The Invisible Bridge

Jennifer Egan: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Elif Batuman: The Possessed

Michael Cunningham: By Nightfall

Saul Bellow Letters edited by Benjamin Taylor


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Remembering Gabe Zimmerman in Santa Cruz

(Photo by Tory Anderson/Alliance for Retired Americans / Associated Press)

Gabriel Zimmerman, community outreach director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was computer-savvy from an early age, but he also understood that technology was only the means to an end.

Zimmerman, 30, graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2002 with a degree in sociology. He was one of six people fatally wounded Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., in the shooting rampage that left his boss critically wounded.

This week, friends and colleagues remembered Zimmerman as a seasoned community organizer with a strong sense of social justice and conflict resolution.

“People have to engage,’’ said sociology professor Paul Lubeck, who vividly remembers Zimmerman’s eager presence in three of his classes. “They have to get out there on the ground, get out into the community, go out and get their hands dirty. He exemplified that."

Read the rest of the story here.

For me, his story underscores what Jon Stewart said about those who were hurt or lost their lives that day and the amount of "anonymous goodness there is in the will realize people that you don't even know, and have never even met are leading lives of real dignity and goodness."

That's good to remember in times like this.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Forty-dollar Jonathan Franzen tickets????

You won't believe this. A woman from Ben Lomond is trying to scalp the $10 tickets to tonight's sold-out Bookshop Santa Cruz event for $40 a piece. Can you believe that? In Santa Cruz, of all places? Great author and public speaker, and it's always nice to see that much interest in a literary event. But do scalpers have to wreck everything?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Art, wisdom and enduring friendship: Jack Zajac, Don Weygandt and Doug McClellan

I'm posting this one especially for one reader, MGW. This is a photo of "Big Skull II", bronze, 29.5 in. high, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. And here is my story about an enduring artistic friendship that lasts to this day. I was glad to see that the Hirshhorn Tweeted (is that a verb?) a link to this story so I've got a lot of art fans reading this.

Couple of other things: thank you to Travis who rescued my five bucks off the ground at Shopper's Corner (and who somehow knew my name). Also, a reader just sent me a movie about hiking the Continental Divide Trail! Looking forward to seeing it.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Santa Cruz slide show!

Here is the link to a slide show that accompanies my 36 Hours column. I know one of the people featured in this photo tour of Santa Cruz. Somehow, the fabled River Street sign did not make it into the slide show. Maybe next time?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

36 Hours in Santa Cruz: Sunday New York Times

Here is my 36 Hours piece on Santa Cruz, with a special emphasis on my own "best kept secrets" -- not the kind of stuff you're likely to find in a guidebook somewhere. If you follow this itinerary, you will eat a lot but you will dance and hike off most of the calories.

This article made the Top 10 most emailed stories of the day. Thanks for sending this along.

photo by davidcmc58