Sox win!

Just before midnight on the East Coast, the Red Sox secured their 11th ever World Series victory with a convincing victory over the Cleveland Indians. Didn’t David Ortiz look cute with his goggles on, ready to celebrate?

With the Yankees sadly eliminated early this year, I’ve felt free to root for the Red Sox throughout the Cleveland series. There’s nothing like October baseball in the Northeast.

Premium Denim and the Great Gatsby

Last weekend, by chance, I ended up at the Blues Jean Bar in the Marina. They have jeans, jeans, and more jeans. It’s rather impressive. However, I did a little research and it seems that their prices are over retail, so I doubt I would ever buy anything there. I also don’t like the fact that they keep all the jeans behind the “bar,” so you have to ask for everything. One thing I hate when shopping for clothes is interacting with the sales people.

Since last weekend I’ve given myself a minor crash course in premium denim. No, I definitely can’t distinguish the pocket design of one brand from another, but I did find a pair of jeans from AG called Great Gatsby. Being a complete sucker for all things Gatsby, I immediately wanted them. Not only did they bear the Gatsby name, but they also reminded me of another Gatsby-related piece of apparel, the Gatsby shirts from J. Peterman, which I first encountered in the Peterman catalog ten years ago when I was in high school.

However, after thinking about it, the AG jeans just seem downright stupid to me. While the Peterman shirts at least claimed to be inspired by Gatsby—the very shirt that Gatsby wore! the same sort of shirt that he would toss on the floor causing Daisy to weep!—I could never imagine Gatsby wearing AG jeans, not then and not now.

Though I can believe in the Peterman shirts, silly as they—and his whole catalog—may be, I can’t really believe that there’s anything at all Gatsbyesque about the AG jeans. It’s sort of like Moleskine notebooks, where the labels claim that Picasso and Hemingway used them. And, in fact, they actually did use similarly designed notebooks. Dave Eggers and many others actually use Moleskine notebooks themselves, which adds to their appeal. Of course, having the right tools counts for nothing if you don’t know how to use them, but their inspirational power—commercial and exploitative as it may be—also carries a degree of reality.

Weekend notes

  • Conversational reading has a fairly sharp piece about one of my favorite literary critics, James Wood.

I don’t think Wood believes there is much value in metaphors like Flaubert’s because as a reader he doesn’t appreciate what use they have in a novel. Wood is comfortable dissecting how an author attaches character traits to realistic people, but when an author tosses in an enigmatic metaphor, Wood finds it too fuzzy, and therefore meaningless. I think, perhaps, if he were better at imagining his way into the psychology of a work, he might better understand the value of metaphors like Flaubert’s.

Esposito seems to go a little over the top to make his point, for, after all, enigmatic metaphor and social commentary doesn’t really matter much without the existing creation in the novel of one real human being.

  • Prompted in part by this New York Times article, I’ve been reading up on recent cancer research. Most articles I’ve read, are, unfortunately, unlinkable (like this one), having come from ridiculously expensive medical journals. One of the recommendations I encountered in the Times is essentially to spend more resources on soi-disant “blue sky” research. One of the places that I became aware of at the beginning of this decade that actually works on this sort of stuff is the Webb-Waring Institute, which operates free of commercial interests.
  • An era ended in New York last week with Joe Torre’s departure from the New York Yankees. The teams from 1996 through 2001 played an essential part in my sense of who I am as an individual—Mo; Jeter; Posada; waking up at obscene hours in France to listen to the 2000 Subway Series; the 2001 playoff games that started on one day and finished the next, ending in October—and I’m rather sad about the end of things for Torre. These letters to the Times sports section express that sadness better than I can right now.

J.D. Drew and the curse of potential

J.D. Drew may be the toast of the town in New England after his grand slam yesterday against the Indians, but New York Times and Deadspin blogger Will Leitch writes about how Drew is one of the most disliked players he has ever watched. Leitch notes that “the real reason Drew rankles us so much is that he doesn’t seem to be having much fun. He’s not loafing, exactly, but he roams the diamond with the countenance of a man finishing out the end of a prison term. For all his obvious skills, he is thought to have no passion for the game.”

Drew’s case here seems to raise two questions: one about wasted potential and another about making one’s life’s work something for which one has no passion. But does Drew really have no passion or does he just appear that way? And is that such a bad thing? And what really is the difference? Is Drew simply not a hard worker? I think the sentiment about Drew results from a combination of his not having lived up to his projected potential from the time he was drafted and his apparently blasé demeanor on the field. If the guy had driven in 100 runs this year, would the fans really be all over him? I doubt it, but then again, when you play in front of thousands and thousands of people, performance matters in both senses of the word.

The development round

The New York Times has an editorial today about the 2001 Doha talks and the commitment to making it easier for poor countries to have access to global markets to sell their goods. However, as the Times notes:

The package for the poorest should be improved. At the very least, the duty- and quota-free access to markets in industrial countries should be extended to cover more of the poor countries’ most competitive exports, starting with textiles. Middle-income countries should also offer equivalent open access for exports from the least developed. And rich countries should tightly limit any exceptional subsidies and protections for agricultural products, like sugar and cotton, that poor countries can export.

The New Yorker’s Arts Issue

Earlier this week, I had lunch with New Yorker writer Alex Ross, whose new book The Rest Is Noise is an excellent history of 20th century classical music. Ross has an article in this week’s New Yorker about how the Internet, commonly held to have had a deleterious effect on the music business, has lead to a revival in the classical music business.

What really struck me in the article is a passage Ross quotes from the blog of pianist Jeremy Denk about the experience of playing Oliver Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time”:

Somewhere toward the middle of the last movement, I began to feel the words that Messiaen marks in the part, I began to hear them, feel them as a “mantra”: extatique, paradisiaque. And maybe more importantly, I began to have visions while I was playing, snapshots of my own life (such that I had to remind myself to look at the notes, play the notes!): people’s eyes, mostly, expressions of love, moments of total and absolute tenderness. (This is sentimental, too personal: I know. How can you write about this piece without becoming over-emotional?) I felt that same sense of outpouring (“pouring over”) that comes when you just have to touch someone, when what you feel makes you pour out of your own body, when you are briefly no longer yourself—and at that moment I was still playing the chords, still somehow playing the damn piano. And each chord is even more beautiful than the last; they are pulsing, hypnotic, reverberant . . . each chord seemed to pile on something that was already ready to collapse, something too beautiful to be stable . . . and when your own playing boomerangs on you and begins to “move yourself,” to touch you emotionally, you have entered a very dangerous place. Luckily, the piece was almost over. . . . When I got offstage I had to breathe, hold myself in, talk myself down.

Denk does an excellent job of conveying simultaneously the the way it feels to be overwhelmingly moved by something and the very impossibility of expressing that feeling. Also in this week’s magazine is a relatively interesting piece by Sasha Frere-Jones about why indie rock is so white.

Orhan Pamuk at the JCC San Francisco

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By chance I discovered that Orhan Pamuk was reading at the JCC in San Francisco last night. Unfortunately, tickets were sold out. And yet, I decided to drive up to the city after work, anyway, to see if I might be able to score a ticket by standing outside on California Street. I happened to also be very hungry during the drive, and couldn’t help but make a sushi stop at Whole Foods before I got to the JCC. By the time I did arrive, it was 8:07 pm, and I was seven minutes late for the event and probably 15 minutes late for my chance at buying a ticket from someone going in with an extra. So, I went over to the ticket booth on a whim, and asked if they had any tickets available. And indeed they gave me one. “How much is it?” I asked, and the girl at the booth told me, “Don’t worry about it.” (Free ticket to see Orhan Pamuk! And I got sushi!)

I absolutely loved the event and am going to see him again tomorrow evening at Stanford. Some of the things I remember from his talk at the JCC, which will be broadcast on November 12 at 8 pm on KALW 91.7 FM:

  • The central work of the writer is spending a lot of time alone in a room, looking inside yourself and putting what you find on the outside.
  • Pamuk paraphrasing Adorno in response to a question about the writer’s position at the border of his culture: “Morality is to never feel at home anywhere.” The actual line from Adorno, which I looked up afterwards: “It is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.”
  • Pamuk’s comments on always falling into depression when he reads the English translations of his work because English is the one other language he understands well enough to be critical of.

Overall, I came away from the event reminded of my love for both writing and reading, and I look forward to finishing up Pamuk’s Other Colors and then diving into Snow.