Dr. Hodgman, I Presume

Tags: ARFFF 2006.5, Hodgman vs. Livingston, Metaphysicians of Tlon, the primal scene of American historiography, The Muppet Movie, how history judges a dream-thief.

We’re still visiting family in (y)our nation’s capital and I’m finding it hard to write the second half of my books of 2006 post without more of the books in front of me. In its stead, I thought I’d excerpt two remarkable books I did bring with me on this trip. The books are John Hodgman’s crypto-pseudo-almanac The Areas of My Expertise, and James Livingston’s philsophical critique of American intellectual history, Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy. The two books have nothing in common except that: I brought them both on vacation, they both impressed me, and they look almost identical. OK, maybe not identical identical, but they’re trade paperbacks of similar size and their covers have nearly identical color schemes. All week I was picking up Livingston and expecting it to be Hodgman or Hodgman and expecting it to be Livingston. You think you’re so clever, you tell me which is which! Read more



Tags: All reading for fun at Fessenden, our quirky electronic childhoods, the great American elevator inspector novel, I don’t know Dick.

It’s year in review time, Loyal Dozens, that magical time of year when we review the year that went by since the last time it was time to review the year between the times when it’s time to review it. I’ll dispense with such fripperies as the year in movies, music, or current events, but I read a lot of books and every year I like to take some time to record a few that stayed with me, both for their own merits and for vaguely autobiographical purposes. (I try to associate the subjects of books with the places and times where I read them. Even though you can find a copy anywhere, for instance, it’s cool to me that I bought Colson Whitehead’s old weird NYC novel The Intuitionist, along with Ann Douglas’ Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s, at the awesome Strand bookstore in Greenwich Village. Or that I read Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon while actually en route from Paris to the moon.) This is made easier this year by the LibraryThing account I started last December. Most people use LibraryThing to catalog the books they own, but I use the library so prodigiously that my the set of books I possess bears only a passing resemblance to the set of books that have passed under my eyeballs. Instead, I used LibraryThing to catalog books as I read them, regardless of their provenance. You can, if you care, see all the books I read in 2006 here. But here are some highlights, starting with fiction first. Read more


Wichita Mind Control

Tags: Old weird America; Ratched, Wormer, and Hogg; the banality of anti-Americanism; your cheating humu humu nuku nuku a’pua’a.

“One measures a circle beginning anywhere,” said Charles Fort. Our expedition to the old, weird America will begin in Kansas: home of Dorothy, Bob Dole, Clark Kent, Brown v. Board, and the world’s largest ball of twine (disputed). This may seem an odd place to begin. Isn’t Kansas the anti-weird? The bluest of blue states, the pancake-flat heartland? Well, yes and no. Frank Baum knew what he was doing when he put the gateway to Oz there. But before we hit the road, a little discussion of what the old, weird America is good for, and why we might value it at this particular point in time. Read more


The Old, Weird America

Tags: Harry Smith, $60 t-shirts, Hoover’s hobo-fighting robots, regrets.

My colleague Alan stopped me in the hall the other day and said, “I don’t want to start this conversation by saying ‘hey, Rob, you’re into weird stuff, aren’t you?’ but, um, you are into weird stuff, aren’t you?” It’s a fair cop. He wasn’t inviting me to his swingers club or anything like that. The local news had called looking for someone to do fifteen seconds of talking head on the history of Halloween. Which I ended up doing.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed the change to my sidebar, which no longer mentions robots. (I still like robots, I just rarely post about them. Though to be fair, I never promised I’d post about robots, I just said I liked them. Which I still do.) Now the sidebar promises dowsing for “the old, weird America.” That mellifluous phrase comes from Greil Marcus; it’s the title of his book about Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes and his name for that semi-buried world of often eerie Americana that Dylan and the Band tapped into by way of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. The old, weird America is a land of juke joints and revival preachers, medicine shows and haunted battlefields. It’s the music of Harmonica Frank, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Cannon’s Jug Stompers, and the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers. It’s the home of Tom Joad and John Henry, Mike Fink and Stagger Lee. Where preachers speak in tongues and tricksters make deals at crossroads, where grifters run long cons and hoboes lure young lads with songs of candy, where eggheads make breathless, pointless lists of rustic exotica, the old, weird America is near.
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