Sunday, August 24, 2008


The Man From Planet X-Rated

The catch of the day from Keith Phipps over at Onion AV Club -- the writer behind the hilariously awful soft-porn The Man From Planet X: The She Beast (the excerpts must be seen to be believed) also wrote... Tom Swift and The Visitor From Planet X.



I'll be reading -- with Starlee Kine, Arthur Bradford, Arthur Jones, Jonathan Goldtein and Judd Greenstein -- in a Post-It Note Reading Series event at next weekend's Bumbershoot in Seattle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008



I'm in Slate this week with the creepy joy of cooking with Vincent Price:

For those who know Price from classic 1950s horror films like The Fly and The House of Wax—or who were imprinted with his Batman cameos and Saturday-morning commercials for Stay Alive and Hangman—it's odd to discover that he and his wife, Mary, were also gourmets. Thanks to tutorial LPs from the 1970s, you can still find clips of Vincent discoursing upon Viennese stuffed eggs floating about online; and the inevitable Youtube mashup assures that you'll never hear the words chunky peanut butter the same way again. But the Prices' culinary fame rests primarily upon their 1965 collection, A Treasury of Great Recipes, which culled recipes and reproduced menus from top restaurants around the world. Everyone who owns this volume swears by it for one reason above all others: The Treasury is a shockingly (terrifyingly?) good example of 1960s cuisine...

One of my favorite finds -- though it wound up on the cutting room floor -- was digging up a TV listing from 1971 in the Times of London archive, for a series of his called Cooking Pricewise:

It's curious, looking over the listings, to recall just how few channels there were back then. (And that they didn't run for 24 hours.) There must have been untold millions of Britons watching Vincent Price in his kitchen, whipping up American Icebox Cake and Turkish Yogurt Fluff.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The Elkin Scale

The Stranger continues to have some of the most inventive book coverage in the country, and actually appears to be growing, even as book sections get cut back at other newspapers. (The LA Times is the latest casualty.)

Here's a great bit by Paul Constant in this week's Stranger:
Here's the supersecret method I use to determine if a bookstore is any good: Find the fiction section, locate the Es, and look for Stanley Elkin. If a bookstore carries Elkin's novels, it's a sign of all-around quality. Elkin, who died in 1995, was a masterful writer with a playful love of language that few authors this side of Nabokov could match—it's a good bet that almost every literary author you admire has read and loved Stanley Elkin's fiction.

But many bookstores don't carry Elkin's novels because they're obscure and they don't sell—you'd be lucky to have one stolen every other year, compared to perennial sellers like Kerouac. Granted, any bookstore can order Elkin's books—the nonprofit Dalkey Archive Press keeps them all in print, supposedly forever—but so can I, from my laptop, on my couch. A bookstore that carries Stanley Elkin has more than good taste; it has a commitment to its stock and a willingness to shelve excellent books that don't pay for their own real estate.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Hey, Genius!

I'm in New Scientist this week with an early attempt by Thomas Edison at short-answer testing for prospective employees:
EARLY in 1921, New Yorkers who answered an anonymous job ad in the New York Times received a curious reply: they were to go Newark, New Jersey, take an early morning bus on the West Orange line to Thomas A. Edison Industries, and ask at the front desk for a Mr Stevenson. No letter of introduction or resumé was required. Applicants who followed the mysterious instructions found themselves ushered inside a laboratory and subjected to a barrage of 163 seemingly random questions: Is Australia larger in area than Greenland? Of what wood are kerosene barrels made? What is copra?....

Edison pointed to his results as proof that he had isolated a specific mental ability: of 718 men who took the test, only 32 scored more than 90 per cent, and only 57 scored above 70 per cent. Those tested appeared split between "A-men" who could answer the questions, and "XYZs" who believed Bengal was the capital of Maine, that tides caused the phases of the moon, and the “candidate [who] reasoned that if the active principle of coffee is caffeine, that of tea ought in all fairness to be taffeine.”
For a time in 1921, a favorite journalist gotcha was springing the "Edison Test" on the unsuspecting. Edison's own son failed it, as did NYC's Superintendent of Schools. And, of course, there came this immortal headline in the Times:

Asked to Tell Speed of Sound, He Refers Questioner to Text Books.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


"Baboons Are Simply Too Small For Leopard Bait"

I'm in Slate this week with the 10 Oddest Travel Guides Ever.

For instance:

1. The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa, and How To Go on Safari for $690.00, by George Leonard Herter (1963)
Equal parts Hemingway and Cliff Clavin, mail-order hunting goods retailer George Herter was one of America's great oddball writers. His self-published guide—bound in leopard-print cloth—is a malarial fever of anecdotes, family safari photos, and horrifying advice: "Baboons are simply too small for leopard bait. ... A live dog is one of the best leopard baits." Hunting with a phonograph of distressed goat calls is encouraged; so is the importation of animals: "Leopard farming would be far more profitable than mink farming," he proposes. As the corpses of rhinos, lions, elephants—and one of their guides—pile up for more than 300 pages, Herter never misses a chance to sell his sporting goods with such photo captions as: "A Masai warrior admires a pair of Hudson Bay two point shoes."

Space kept me from delving into all the insane goodness of Herter in my article, but here's a few more Herter quotes for your edification:

• "Buy five pounds of hard mint candies for every 30 days of your safari."

• "Africans know nothing about pancakes or pancake syrup."

• "Cheetahs are large cats that look like a cross between a cat and a dog. They are easily tamed and make good household pets. The only trouble with them is that they will attack dogs."


Rutabagas From Hell

I just love that somebody actually wrote a book on this: The Biggest Beetroot in the World: Giant Vegetables and the People Who Grow Them.

From today's Times of London review:

Leapman guides us through this strange world by shadowing a group of its key players through a season as they prepare for the 2007 shows. While displaying the total commitment of all top athletes, the stars of the Big Veg league each have their own individual techniques....

Clive Bevan raises his long cucumbers inside women's tights. Apparently this allows them to expand in all directions. When raised in the more traditional sock they're liable to touch the end, lose heart and stop growing.

Ian Neale - a nursery owner who once grew the world's biggest beetroot at 51lb 9oz (there is no metric system in the world of giant veg) - gets his monsters off to a good start by feeding them rock dust, essence of pig slurry and a material called “dinosaur fertiliser”, from a “big pile on the top of a moor in Yorkshire”.

Digging a little into the subject led me to this absolutely bonkers headline in the New York Times for November 3, 1924:

Obscure Scientist Revealed by Jealous Peasant's False Charge in Murder Case

Known as "Satan's servant" by 586 fellow inhabitants of the little Norman hamlet of Qubue des Yvelines, but heretofore unheard of elsewhere in France, Justin Christofleau asserts that he is not unknown in America and other countries owing to his research work in connection with electric fertilizing....

Sigh. They just don't make mad scientist stories like they used to, do they?

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Play With Your Food

My nine year-old's discovery of what you get when you search "musical instruments" and "vegetables" on Youtube:

And: a family concert!

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