introducing readers to writers since 1995

June 10, 2005

Steve, Dallas and an Opus
(Yeah? You Try Writing These Headlines, Smartypants...)

by Ron Hogan

I ended up in a bit of a blogcluster at last night's Stephen Elliott/Dallas Hudgens reading at Lolita. Of course, there was Lauren Cerand, who's still booking events at the bar in the post-Cupcake era, but Dallas brought along his writing group partner, Wendi, and fellow Elliott fan Maud was accompanied by her friend, Dana. And then I saw New York City Mouse and Jenny, who told me that she'd also spotted Edward and Cheryl Mendelson...but I still trumped her on the celeb sighting front because I saw Sarah Vowell. (After all, the Mendelsons may be all that when it comes to Auden and home comfort, but how many opening weekends have they led the box office?) The basement of the bar was packed as Hudgens read a scene from his novel, Drive Like Hell, and Elliott--acknowledging that many of his friends in the room had already heard him read from Happy Baby repeatedly--shared an essay called "My Little Brother Ruined My Life" that will turn up in the next Best American Non-Required Reading.

Ever since I went to the 92nd Street Y Monday night, I've been meaning to mention that they've just launched their blog. Mostly it's a fun way to find out about upcoming events, but they do have other tidbits thrown in for readers' amusement. Anyway, I went there to see Umberto Eco read from his new novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which I think may be his most accessible novel ever (although LAT reporter Scott Martell, who I met before the show, assured me that I just hadn't gotten yet to the passage that would require my brain to do some heavy lifting). Eco read from the opening scene, in which the protagonist emerges from a coma with perfect recollection of the books he's read but no sense of personal history, not even his name, then skipped ahead to scenes from later in the story--including the grand climax (portions of which he read in Italian). I don't necessarily think it "gave away" the ending, though, because as arresting as the material was, I don't think it'll really make sense to me until I actually read up to that point. (I did flip ahead to those final pages, though, and the comic book-like collages interwoven with the text are fairly striking...)

After sitting on the tarmac at Logan for four hours, Ren Weschler got to the hall in time to handle some post-reading Q&A, and when he prompted Eco on the obvious surface similarities between author and narrator, Eco smiled and said, "Usually, to provoke my interviewers, I say my previous novels were all autobiographical, but this one..." (at which point the audience laughed heartily). He also revealed that he hadn't struggled to remember the cultural artifacts from his youth that eventually turn up in the novel; he knew exactly what he was looking for, and then it was merely a matter of finding it on the Internet. Weschler asked if he ever felt like "the Internet is your mind writ large." The answer? "Every intellectual, I suspect, thinks the Internet is nearly as large as our brain."

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