Monthly Archives: October 2009

Short Story Review: “Three-Legged Dog” and Single Sentence Animation

elBilling itself as “Reading That’s Bad For You,” Electric Literature proclaims that its mission “is to use new media and innovative distribution to return the short story to a place of prominence in popular culture.” EL is tired of hearing about the death of literary fiction. It believes in the future. You certainly have to give EL credit for trying.

Case in point: Single Sentence Animation. An animated short is made based on a single sentence taken from a short story featured in the magazine. This cunning little multimedia term hasn’t been trademarked yet, as far as I could tell. Here’s hoping the EL folks keep it that way, or maybe throw on a Creative Commons license. image

To get a grip on Single Sentence Animation, I read all the sentences in “Three-Legged Dog,” by Diana Wagman—captured in a Single Sentence Animation video (caution: sexually-tinged imagery). The story is about a man whose girlfriend has lost a breast to cancer. He is her first lover following the mastectomy. Rather than being repulsed, the narrator is strongly attracted to the young survivor, so fragile and strong. The closely observed details are all there, the feel of a grubby bachelor apartment, the ironic pillow talk, the stream of conscious associations:

My blue sheets were cool. My laundry was all in the hamper. She would be a chilly breeze in my arms. My sweat would evaporate, my skin prickle with goose flesh. I could pretend it was snowing outside. Snowing in southern California. With her, anything could happen.

It’s a clever enough story, in a writer’s workshop sort of way. The narrator insists on a cool detachment throughout, leading to a decidedly cold-hearted denouement and little in the way of development or disclosure.

But Martha Colburn sure liked it. Enough that she picked the following sentence, very much representative of the story’s spirit, and made a 1:55 animated short out of it:

I like the bare expanse of that half of her chest, an empty sky, an open question about what will happen next.

The short is quite a take on the story, an approach I’d never seen before. Like most innovations, this one is rough around the edges. For one thing, it only makes sense within the context of the story. Although this may not be a bad thing. Normally we tend to think of filmwork based on literature as possessing a life of its own. The animation here is an extension of the story, though. I like how the words remain primary, of necessity.

I don’t know if Wagman and Colburn collaborated on this project or not. I like to think they didn’t. I like to think Colburn read the story, and was inspired. I like to think that the written word still has the power to inspire, my reservations about this story aside, even in the age of the 30-second YouTube clip. To that end, let’s hope the folks in at Electric Literature keep up the good work, and prove this to be so.

First paragraph of “Three-Legged Dog”:

My girlfriend is missing her left breast. She has a horizontal scar across half her chest, like the seam of a pocket that holds her heart. She had cancer before I met her. I don’t mind. I once went with a girl who had multiple labia piercings and that was more annoying. This is kind of cool. The skin around the scar is darker than the rest of her as if shadowed by a permanent cloud. A constellation of tattooed points circumnavigates the incision: on her sternum, beneath her collarbone, under her arm, along her first rib. The radiologist put them there as guides. One night, I took a marker and connected the dots. No hidden picture emerged, just an awkward box around the void. I like the bare expanse of that half of her chest, an empty sky, an open question about what will happen next.

Purchase info for EL: Here.

Detail: The EL cover image is from the first issue, the one in which the Wagman story appeared. It is not the latest.  This post originally appeared on TeleRead.

Short Story Review: "Three-Legged Dog" and Single Sentence Animation

elBilling itself as “Reading That’s Bad For You,” Electric Literature proclaims that its mission “is to use new media and innovative distribution to return the short story to a place of prominence in popular culture.” EL is tired of hearing about the death of literary fiction. It believes in the future. You certainly have to give EL credit for trying.

Case in point: Single Sentence Animation. An animated short is made based on a single sentence taken from a short story featured in the magazine. This cunning little multimedia term hasn’t been trademarked yet, as far as I could tell. Here’s hoping the EL folks keep it that way, or maybe throw on a Creative Commons license. image

To get a grip on Single Sentence Animation, I read all the sentences in “Three-Legged Dog,” by Diana Wagman—captured in a Single Sentence Animation video (caution: sexually-tinged imagery). The story is about a man whose girlfriend has lost a breast to cancer. He is her first lover following the mastectomy. Rather than being repulsed, the narrator is strongly attracted to the young survivor, so fragile and strong. The closely observed details are all there, the feel of a grubby bachelor apartment, the ironic pillow talk, the stream of conscious associations:

My blue sheets were cool. My laundry was all in the hamper. She would be a chilly breeze in my arms. My sweat would evaporate, my skin prickle with goose flesh. I could pretend it was snowing outside. Snowing in southern California. With her, anything could happen.

It’s a clever enough story, in a writer’s workshop sort of way. The narrator insists on a cool detachment throughout, leading to a decidedly cold-hearted denouement and little in the way of development or disclosure.

But Martha Colburn sure liked it. Enough that she picked the following sentence, very much representative of the story’s spirit, and made a 1:55 animated short out of it:

I like the bare expanse of that half of her chest, an empty sky, an open question about what will happen next.

The short is quite a take on the story, an approach I’d never seen before. Like most innovations, this one is rough around the edges. For one thing, it only makes sense within the context of the story. Although this may not be a bad thing. Normally we tend to think of filmwork based on literature as possessing a life of its own. The animation here is an extension of the story, though. I like how the words remain primary, of necessity.

I don’t know if Wagman and Colburn collaborated on this project or not. I like to think they didn’t. I like to think Colburn read the story, and was inspired. I like to think that the written word still has the power to inspire, my reservations about this story aside, even in the age of the 30-second YouTube clip. To that end, let’s hope the folks in at Electric Literature keep up the good work, and prove this to be so.

First paragraph of “Three-Legged Dog”:

My girlfriend is missing her left breast. She has a horizontal scar across half her chest, like the seam of a pocket that holds her heart. She had cancer before I met her. I don’t mind. I once went with a girl who had multiple labia piercings and that was more annoying. This is kind of cool. The skin around the scar is darker than the rest of her as if shadowed by a permanent cloud. A constellation of tattooed points circumnavigates the incision: on her sternum, beneath her collarbone, under her arm, along her first rib. The radiologist put them there as guides. One night, I took a marker and connected the dots. No hidden picture emerged, just an awkward box around the void. I like the bare expanse of that half of her chest, an empty sky, an open question about what will happen next.

Purchase info for EL: Here.

Detail: The EL cover image is from the first issue, the one in which the Wagman story appeared. It is not the latest.  This post originally appeared on TeleRead.

Sunday Morning Soundtrack 5: The Beatles

After putting up a White Album spoof earlier this week, I figured I’d better put up the real deal this Sunday morning.  This is my favorite track off the record this week.  One of the ways you can tell it is a great album is because my favorite song on it changes on a near-weekly basis.

Rest assured The Great Ones will be putting in more Sunday morning appearances.

Cage match: Eugenides vs. McEwan vs. Diaz

Took the scioness to storytime at the library the other night.  Glancing over the paperbacks for sale, I spotted Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides, Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz.  Picked ’em up for a buck a pop.

Not being much up on non-ebook contemporary lit, I haven’t read anything by any of these writers before.

Cage match!

middlesexatonementbrief wondrous life

Any votes for reading order, best to worst?

Philip Roth says the novel is screwed

Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown asked esteemed author Philip Roth, in this Vimeo video, about the future of the novel.

Basically, Roth says, the novel is screwed.  Not even the Kindle can save the novel, because it has to compete against all those screens: first the movie screen, then the TV screen, and now the computer screen.  Now all three of those are out there, and the book just doesn’t measure up.

Roth predicts that in 25 years the novel will have a “cultic” following, perhaps slightly larger than the group of people who now read Latin poetry.  What do you think?  Is he right?  Or will the novel carry on as it has these last centuries?

Grumpy old man

Grumpy old man

It does occur to me that as recently as a century or two ago, the reading public for a novel was perhaps at what Roth might call a cultic level.  Then came the Golden Age of Reading, from perhaps the late 1800s through, say, the 1930s.  Now novel-reading is in an inevitable decline, soon to return to being the pastime of a small group of hobbyists?

But perhaps Roth is speaking only of the literary novel, which already could be said to have largely a cultic following, big prizes and splashy headlines aside.  People line up for Dan Brown’s pulp, but how many will read Roth’s latest offering, The Humbling? And he is among the biggest names among contemporary literary novelists, if a grumpy one.  What hope, then, for those as-yet unknown writers?

Have a look at the video, and then have your say in the comments.

Lenny Dykstra’s blues

The schadenfreude mill has caught up to another one.

More chaw means more forearms, kids.

More chaw means more forearms, kids.

In spring 2008 I read, fascinated, a New Yorker article about how my childhood hero Lenny Dykstra had become a multimillionaire businessman wheeler-and-dealer extraordinaire on account of being, well, Lenny Dykstra.  He bought Wayne Gretzky’s old house in LA for $18 million.  He rode around in luxury jets.  He did lunch at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan.  He yelled at umps at his kid’s little league game.  Living in the Third World at the time, I distinctly remember thinking, I have got to get home.  If Lenny can get rich, for chrissakes, anyone can.

Turns out ole Lenny wasn’t another Warren Buffet with oncoming mouth cancer.  When the bubble burst last year, Lenny lost everything.  He’s now declared bankruptcy.  He owes his creditors a cool $31 million.  The little league umps ignore him.

Ah, Lenny, if you weren’t such a crass, pompous asshole (really, read the article), we could feel sorry for you for being so dumb.  As it is … well, good luck with that whole bankruptcy thing.

Funny, that the lying liar Jim Cramer was a big fan of Lenny’s.  And that almost a year to the day after the feature on Lenny came out, that lying liar would be outed as such on national TV.

That interview is funny like being punched in the gut is funny.  This, however, is just good old-fashioned snarkastic humor.  As is this:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3706035&w=425&h=350&fv=autoPlay%3Dfalse]

Lenny Dykstra's blues

The schadenfreude mill has caught up to another one.

More chaw means more forearms, kids.

More chaw means more forearms, kids.

In spring 2008 I read, fascinated, a New Yorker article about how my childhood hero Lenny Dykstra had become a multimillionaire businessman wheeler-and-dealer extraordinaire on account of being, well, Lenny Dykstra.  He bought Wayne Gretzky’s old house in LA for $18 million.  He rode around in luxury jets.  He did lunch at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan.  He yelled at umps at his kid’s little league game.  Living in the Third World at the time, I distinctly remember thinking, I have got to get home.  If Lenny can get rich, for chrissakes, anyone can.

Turns out ole Lenny wasn’t another Warren Buffet with oncoming mouth cancer.  When the bubble burst last year, Lenny lost everything.  He’s now declared bankruptcy.  He owes his creditors a cool $31 million.  The little league umps ignore him.

Ah, Lenny, if you weren’t such a crass, pompous asshole (really, read the article), we could feel sorry for you for being so dumb.  As it is … well, good luck with that whole bankruptcy thing.

Funny, that the lying liar Jim Cramer was a big fan of Lenny’s.  And that almost a year to the day after the feature on Lenny came out, that lying liar would be outed as such on national TV.

That interview is funny like being punched in the gut is funny.  This, however, is just good old-fashioned snarkastic humor.  As is this:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3706035&w=425&h=350&fv=autoPlay%3Dfalse]

Pondering kids? Read this

Came across some good reading for anyone out there pondering your reproductive capacities:

It’s not that I think family life is so awful no one in their right mind would want it; it’s that child-free life can be so good that I’m annoyed it is almost always presented as second-best, cold and empty. “Who will be there for you when you’re old?” people say. (Contradicting themselves, these same people will often chide the childless for being selfish.)

And:

Humans have the capacity to rise above the biological imperative to reproduce. That we do not place the highest value on passing on our genes is part of what makes us different and, yes, in some sense superior to our fellow animals.  … If many more of us do not have grandchildren, then perhaps we will make it clearer that sexual reproduction may be the meaning of animal life, but it sure ain’t the best or only reason for humans to get up in the morning: refreshed, after a night uninterrupted by the cries of little angels.

You know how many full, undisturbed nights of sleep I’ve had since 09/09/2007?  That’s right – zero.

Would I change a thing?  Not on your life.  The scioness (and her hypothetical siblings) is the ne plus ultra of our existence and that’s an end of it.

Still, for those of you yet to reproduce, you can get an earful from every parent on the planet about what to expect, but you’re not likely to hear much about what you could expect, if you didn’t.

Making “Not doing it for the kids“, by philosopher Julian Baggini, well worth a read.