7th October 12
The masthead for Twin Citian, a proto-glossy lifestyle mag for the pinkies-up set during the 1960s. It’s an interesting to read, if for no other reason than the fact that it succeeds wildly in making postwar Minneapolis seem like the most boring city in America to live; there appears to be nothing to do but listen to FM radio, go to the Guthrie, and eat at very staid-looking steak houses.
A new publisher named Ron Bacigalupo apparently agreed, because he bought the magazine with some investors and threw out the old format completely in the early ’70s. It was relaunched as New Twin Citian, which included an optimistic introductory manifesto in the first issue more or less promising that the New Twin Citian was going to be the area’s answer to Clay Felker’s New York magazine. The masthead looked exactly like the old one, with the word “new” resting over the “w.”
Obviously the magazine wasn’t on par with New York (what magazine is?), but the content was much more interesting after the relaunch. Bacigalupo hired the brilliant painter and gallerist Robert Kilbride to write what probably remains the best regular column on visual art in Twin Cities history. It was modestly entitled “Art Etc.,” but trust me, it’s some of the wittiest writing about Minneapolis I’ve ever read. “If you really want to enjoy an art opening and you’re interested in art,” he advised, “the first thing to remember is to forget to go. (On the second day you can enjoy the pictures.)” True then as it is now.
Unfortunately, I guess all of this wasn’t enough, because the New Twin Citian lasted about a year before going under.
9th November 11
This May, when Robert Caro’s fourth volume of his now-five-part Lyndon Baines Johnson biography is released, that’s going to be me up there, camped out overnight outside my local booksellers, dressed in a costume with a bunch of other nerds, except we will all be dressed like Coke Stevenson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Sam Rayburn instead of wizards, because Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson is my Harry Potter.
I’m not joking, either (about camping outside a bookstore in a costume, or those books being my Harry Potter). The Caro LBJ books are probably, all things considered, the best I’ve ever read. If they’re not the best, they’re certainly the most immersive. I read the first three in a crazed several month period beginning last December and ending up around April, a period during which I read nothing else (one of the pleasures of a quiet 40-minute one-way bus commute is eighty minutes a day of reading time, interrupted by nothing except occasional attempts to flirt with whatever downtown St. Paul nonprofit workers might be seated next to me — and believe me, nothing gets a downtown St. Paul nonprofit workers feeling reciprocally flirtatious like a blindingly handsome arts administrator reading a 700-page book about Lyndon Johnson). Caro’s attention to detail is so complete that anytime in the narrative Lyndon Johnson meets a person that’s going to play some sort of major role in his life, Caro will back up and spend a few chapters examining that person’s life prior to the point they met Lyndon Johnson — at least a hundred pages, in some cases.
So what this means for you, the reader, is that you’re drawn into this pattern of reading about LBJ, then reading about people, places and events that are not LBJ, for very long stretches of time, then finally arcing back around to find out how LBJ responded to these people, places and events.
LBJ ruled my imagination so thoroughly in the months after I finished the third volume, and this LBJ-not-LBJ pattern was so well established, that with every book I read afterward — every book not about LBJ, whether nonfiction or fiction — I was still, subconsciously, reading with the expectation that anything I was encountering was simply a set-up for enabling me to better understand how Lyndon Baines Johnson might interact with it. So I’d be reading some fictional novel, about character living in the present day that had nothing to do with Texas in the 1940s, and in the back of my mind, I’d still be chuckling to myself, “Oh boy, Lyndon’s not going to like this guy one bit. I can’t wait to see how totally he is going to flip his shit when they get together in another fifty pages.”
My point is, I’ll see you outside Magers & Quinn this spring. I’ll be wearing a Pappy O’Daniel costume.
17th May 11
From The People’s Almanac Presents The Book of Predictions, by David Wallechinsky, Amy Wallace and Irving Wallace, 1980.
3rd August 10
It was my Aunt Sara in Pittsburgh who first convinced me at age 17 or so that I should always write my name and the year of acquisition in the front of any book that I own. Since that time, I have been very careful to do this every time I’ve come into possession of a book. Each one that I own has “Andy Sturdevant / [year]” written somewhere on the front cover or pastedown. If the pastedown is black or dark blue and the ink won’t show up on it, it’s written on the endsheet.
Any book purchased before 1999 reads “Andrew Sturdevant / [year].” I went by “Andrew” until 1999 or so. That year, my sophomore year of college, I decided that “Andy Sturdevant” was the sort of guy people would rather meet at an art party, so I began referring to myself as “Andy” and suggested others do the same. There aren’t many “Andrew Sturdevant” books around, because before 1999, I rarely had the disposable income for purchasing books. Coincidentally, the first major additions to my book collection were made right around the time I mysteriously became “Andy” because I worked in the same strip mall as a Hawley-Cooke Booksellers that sold remaindered books for absurdly low prices. I could walk over there on lunch and pick up a handful of new art history books for four dollars each.
For a short while, I wrote the month as well — “Feb. 2004,” etc. I stopped doing that after a few months, as it seemed unnecessarily detailed.
If the book was purchased anywhere other than the city in which I was living at the time of purchase, I have traditionally made a note of that.
Occasionally, I will add other details if the circumstances seem extraordinary. If the book is a gift, I will typically make a note of the gift-giver.
I have never been sure what to do with books I have acquired through less formal channels. My copy of The Savage Detectives was borrowed (or, uh, “borrowed”) from the break room of a former employer, where it was in a pile of Dean Koontz thrillers and romance novels of uncertain provenance. I’ve never written my name in it, since it’s not technically mine, though I have no immediate plans to return it to that break room. Is there a statute of limitations? Will I retroactively write “Andy Sturdevant / 2008” in it someday?
I have thought more and more recently about how I decide to acquire books. I have been wondering if I should add more information, other than name and date. For example, consider the two book I am reading now. Roberto Calasso’s Tiepolo Pink was recommended by a painter in New York that I interviewed; he mentioned that Calasso’s treatment of the Rococo artist Giovanni Tiepolo reminded him of two painters here in Minneapolis whose studios we’d both visited. I bought Terry Castle’s The Professor because Dave Hickey wrote such a glowing review of it in a recent Harper’s. Should I note these facts (“Andy Sturdevant / 2010 / Recommended by David Reed”)? Will I remember these anecdotes? Will it matter in five years? Ten years? Has anyone developed a system for annotating personal library accessions in this way?
Perhaps I ought to write book rhymes in the front cover, as Wikipedia tells me was the custom before the 19th Century:
If this book you steal away
What will you say
On Judgment Day?
Personally? “I didn’t think anyone in the office was ever going to read The Savage Detectives, St. Peter, sir.”
15th May 10
They don’t have one in Brooklyn, but they (partially) have one in Portland. In the Pearl District.
Buchino put me up to this, but it’s become kind of a compulsion.
Some quick initial thoughts on Portland: Seeing Mount Hood from the ariel tram is almost a spiritual experience. All the pedicab drivers tell me I need to get to the eastside to see the real Portland. Minneapolis, incidentally, needs more pedicabs. Food carts and pedicabs. Seeing Portland up close, and eating at her food carts (I had a food cart lunch today with Sergio that was basically like a hipster version of a Chipotle bowl) and riding in her pedi-cabs (wonderful) is a little bit like meeting a romantic rival for the first time over a beer and having a nice time with him or her. Minneapolis and Portland are tied together emotionally and psychically in such a unique way — I rarely hear Minneapolis compared to, say, Chicago or Omaha or San Francisco, but not so with Portland. Portland/Minneapolis comparisons are endless, a favorite past-time of armchair urban planners and demographers in my part of the world. You would be surprised, for example, how much this ranking has come up already in polite conversation. Or, rather, you would be surprised if you weren’t from Minneapolis or Portland.
Tomorrow the conference begins. Minneapolis’ Peter Haakon Thompson will be presenting a symposium on “ping pong diplomacy” with Portland’s own Judy Hoarfrost, one of the U.S. table tennis players that went to China in 1971. “Open play” will follow.
One more quick note: many of the Empire Builders appear to have been stricken ill by tainted Amtrak food. Colin in particular sounds like he was gravely ill earlier, but is quickly recovering. Updates to follow.
Also, I didn’t find Austerity Britain at Powell’s, but I did find Francis Wheen’s Strange Days Indeed, a survey of political paranoia in the 1970s.
In 1970, working under the pseudonym Allan Fish, I made an exhibition in the Oakland Museum called ‘The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art.’ This was a social artwork. I am the author of this idea. In the ’90s the idea of social interaction in an art context became an art movement.
I invited sixteen friends to the museum on a Monday when it was normally closed. Since I didn’t want to subject my friends to being performers, the public was not invited. I told the curator, George Neubert, to get the beer and be there. Everybody showed up, and we drank and had a good time. The debris was left on exhibit as a record of the event. Basically, the show consisted of the evidence of the act. It was an important work for me, because it defined Action rather than Object as art. And drinking beer was one if the things I learned in art school.
13th May 10
Tom Marioni, in his memoir Beer, Philosophy and Art: The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art. I think the title and subtitle would be better if they were switched.
This was a very entertaining book, and good preparation for Portland. Marioni is a conceptual artist, and while you often get the sense that he’s shitting you — claiming to be “the author” of social interaction in art, for example — he is also a wry, funny storyteller that is able link the conceptual art activities and practices of the 1960s and ’70s (“No painters emerged in the ’70s — name one”) to those of the present day very clearly.
12th May 10
Since I don’t like packing, don’t like paying things like luggage fees, and don’t like carrying things around, I am only bringing one outfit with me to Portland. You’re looking at it now. It’s at the dry cleaners as we speak. I may skip the hat, though.
This arrangement will allow to me to travel with only one medium-sized bag in tow. This bag will contain a toothbrush, a computer, a few changes of underwear, and copy of Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, which I will somehow conceal in a magazine so nobody sees me reading it and realizes I am a fraud because I have should have read it years and years ago in my first year of graduate school like everyone else at this conference. Oh, shit! I forgot to go to graduate school!
I am not bringing any other books because my understanding is that I will need room in my bag for the dozen I will buy at Powell’s. If you are there now, Portland reader, and you see a copy of David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain, 1945-1951 or Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., hide them under a James Michener brick so I can find them later. Thanks, you’re the best!
10th May 10
In reference to last week’s celebration of irresponsible blogging practices, Minneapolis writer, afternoon ballgame buddy, and my all-around man for fun in Rapidan Brad Zellar leaves the following comment:
Interesting enough, in F.W. Dixon’s sad but frequently entertaining, Let’s Do It: A Compendium of Final Thoughts, Last Words, and Notes to Survivors, the phrase “I think that I have taken this about as far as it will go” merits no less than seven entries. The most recent is from the black box transcript of the final moments of doomed Surinam Airlines flight 764 (1988).
Typical of Zellar to blow my cover. Dixon’s book is exactly where I cribbed this line from, and it remains a favorite saying of mine. I didn’t know anyone in my immediate circle owned a copy of this, but I should have known Zellar’d be the one.
I am glad Zellar brought it up, because most of Dixon’s offbeat, oddball historical texts are worth tracking down. There is Professor Dixon above, scanned from a dust jacket author photo — he is not to be confused with Franklin W. Dixon, pen name used by the various authors of The Hardy Boys novels. Let’s Do It, published in 1991, is perhaps Dixon’s best book, but I am also a big fan of his amusing, misanthropic 1986 text All This God-Damned Cobblestone: Edwardian London in the Words of Its Recluses, and his 1979 survey Peak Physical Condition: An Erotic History of the Olympic Villages, 1932-1976. They’re all out-of-print, for some totally unjustifiable reason.
17th March 10
New arrival: Top 500 Medical Abbreviations (first edition).
This classic 1994 publication isn’t as good as I was hoping. The abbreviations aren’t ranked at all, as the title would seem to suggest; they’re just alphabetized. A disappointing addition to the S. 12th library.
Since the patsies at Upjohn didn’t have the UGI fortitude to do it themselves, I’ll take the liberty of selecting my own personal #1 top medical abbreviation: M/R/G. This stands for “murmurs/rubs/gallops.” It relates to sounds that hearts make, so it is an extra-poetic medical abbreviation. The two heart-slashes around the “r” make it all the more poignant. My heart is always murmuring and rubbing and galloping for you, reader.
Top medical abbreviation number two? BRBPR.
(A loving heart murmur, as always, to Little Brown Mushroom.)
28th January 10
J.D. Salinger’s books — specifically, Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction — were the first books my father ever recommended to me.
I mean that he recommended I read them in the way that an adult recommends a book to another adult. This was a recommendation without conditions or a disclaimer, like “You might like this because you’re a teenager,” or even “I liked this book when I was a teenager.” His willingness to relate an anecdote he found particularly poignant from Raise High the Roof Beam (in this case, the story young Seymour tells on It’s a Wise Child about how wonderful it’d be if all houses were the same, and how anyone would be able to walk interchangeably into any house, into any family) was proof of one kind or another that I had passed onto a certain stage in my development. I had become a person he could talk to about things that were important. I was probably 17 or so.
I think it’s hard to overstate how important the Glass family became in the way I thought about families, and about siblings specifically. I also grew up in a large family; not as large as the Glasses, but with four siblings stretched over a decade. Certainly we weren’t child geniuses, and the suburbs of Louisville weren’t the Upper East Side. But something in the stories seemed familiar. I always found the shifts in the alliances and relationships between the siblings the most interesting — how Fanny regarded the eldest Seymour, how Buddy writes about Seymour, how the twins, the tragic Walt and the mysterious Waker, interacted, how sister Boo Boo fit in, how mother Bessie tells Zooey he’s becoming “more like Buddy.”
Siblings would drift in and out of the narratives. Even when some of them are absent — obviously Seymour, being dead and all, but also in smaller ways, like in the way Buddy moves through Boo Boo’s empty apartment in Raise High, describing the “any number of little untidy signs” that she was occupying it — they’re still always present. So it is with siblings. You can’t get away from them. Even when they’re far-off, in occupied Japan or a naval base in Brooklyn or a conscientious objectors’ camp in Maryland or the Yale-Princeton game or wherever the various narratives take place, there are still even physical reminders everywhere, notes, poems, whatever. Your siblings are the standard upon which you’re measured by the rest of the world, for better or for worse; the way you were all raised becomes the common denominator in all of your interactions (Franny’s outburst at the end of Zooey is particularly poignant for this reason; she yells at Bessie that Zooey keeps saying she and Seymour raised them all in a way that “made freaks out of us!” before Zooey calls her for the famous final conversation in the book). There’s always a uniformity in the way the family is discussed; “no one in my family has ever dated a letter,” Buddy writes confidently. That’s the way Glasses are. All of them.
That’s the way Sturdevants are, I often think, in similar situations.
The Glass siblings feel more real to me than perhaps any other characters in fiction. Salinger imbued them with a depth and a complexity that I will always keep with me. Me, and Nate, and Brother Danny, and Lydia. It will always be the four of us. I imagine the Glasses as being as real as the four of us; Seymour (if he’d lived) and Buddy would likely not be alive now if they’d been real people, as both were born in the late ’10s. Even young Franny would be 75 years old. But the complexity of those relationships remains as close to me as ever, in those three books I first read ten years ago, and my own dad twenty years before that. It’s imprinted itself permanently on the way I think about life. That is the best gift a writer can give you. Rest in peace, J.D. Salinger.