5CT for June

In between Beethoven and Kafka, there is a Merton-like silence. And two versions of solitude. Plus Dylan! It’s the 5CT Sublime Summer Music Festival Edition, bringing you Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a refreshing slice of Thomas Merton, Bob live in Newport, Red Garland with John Coltrane, Duke and Louis Armstrong and two brothers in jazz. Oh, and a mini book review in the sidebar. “You are free, and that is why you are lost,” Franz Kafka is reported to have said, to which we can find no rejoinder whatsoever, except maybe Happy Summer!

Sir Colin & Mitsuko

They are a bit like chalk and cheese, but Sir Colin Davis (September 25, 1927 – April 14, 2013) then conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Mitsuko Uchida’s love for Beethoven’s music is a note to behold. Watch how each of them (he, restrained, she, highly expressive) speak about the majesty of this music and about performing with the other. Fascinating obituary of Sir Colin here —>

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5CT August 2016

To the lazy days of summer’s end, I welcome you. First, over to England for some great black and white photographs. A hot tip on a great little notebook. LARB—dish from Laos or book review website? Baa Baa Black Sheep by Wynton Marsalis is the perfect accompaniment to tour the work of a Portuguese goddess of abstract painting. “At night I would go to sleep dreaming of sea adventures.” – John Claridge


{The canal, 1966, John Claridge}

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5CT October 2014



Greetings from the north coast of California where they are literally running out of water. Day after day — the sun shines on. There are cruel intermissions, clouds gather, fog rolls in, a shower floats by. But the real thing is hard to come by. In this issue, Zadie Smith unpacks a beer ad, tools for writers and creatives, a trip around the literary Northwest and…a quirky tour of England. Enjoy, and pray for rain.

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5 Cool Things for 1.13.12

FCT has a very fine new look, all thanks due a certain Portland based web designer. Hope you like. With the new look, comes a new little section. Metier will feature little morsels about writing — whatever has struck my fancy. All right then, onward. Mr. George Saunders is white hot. Get to know Richard Blanco, he’s got a big day coming up. Barry Lopez was on Fresh Air talking about being Barry Lopez. Richard Nixon would have been 100 years old this past week and if only Hunter S. Thompson was around still. Or Hitch, for that matter. What’s a Sunday in winter without Bossa Nova? “When the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.” Richard Nixon

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1. Man of the Hour | George Saunders

George Saunders, photo Tim Knox

One hardly knows where to begin. Oh wait, I know exactly where to begin. Saturday, January 12, 2013 I took myself to Elliott Bay Books to poke around, work in the cafe and so forth. On the way out I asked about the new George Saunders book, The Tenth of December. “I’ll look it up,” said the nice person behind the counter. “No need,” said her colleague. “We’re out, everyone’s out, even the distributor.” That tells you something, no? Brand new book! So I’m just going to provide some links here and you can follow your nose as you see fit. But, if you love fiction, read it all, read everything. Great writer, cool guy and, a Nyingma Buddhist. I double dare you to not love the man.

Chicago Christmas, 1984
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Preface
George Saunders, A Life in Writing

“And I’m starting to realise that I always thought the answer was just to work hard. And it’s true, but there’s another component, which is that you have to keep pushing yourself to open up to the widest possible vision of the world. And find a prose style that will make that compelling. And that is a beautiful challenge.”

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 2. American the Beautiful | Richard Blanco

Inaugural poet, Richard Blanco – photo by Nikki Moustaki/AP

When I Was a Little Cuban Boy

O José can you see… that’s how I sang it, when I was
cubanito in Miami, and América was some country
in the glossy pages of my history book, someplace
way north, everyone white, cold, perfect. This Land
is my Land, so why didn’t I live there, in a brick house
with a fireplace, a chimney with curlicues of smoke.
I wanted to wear breeches and stockings to my chins,
those black pilgrim shoes with shiny gold buckles.
I wanted to eat yams with the Indians, shake hands
with los negros, and dash through snow I’d never seen
in a one-horse hope-n-say? I wanted to speak in British,
say really smart stuff like fours core and seven years ago
or one country under God, in the visible. I wanted to see
that land with no palm trees, only the strange sounds
of flowers like petunias, peonies, impatience, waiting
to walk through a door someday, somewhere in God
Bless America and say, Lucy, I’m home, honey. I’m home.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of a man who writes poems like this one giving the inaugural poem? Too good to be true.

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3. The Courage to Create | Barry Lopez

Long time ago I read Barry Lopez’ opus, Arctic Dreams and fell for the man, head over heel. Gorgeous book. Very sensitive, a bit on the romantic side, but what’s not to like about that? It turns out that Barry Lopez may have come by his sensitivities via a difficult journey.

Barry Lopez, photo by David Littschwager

In Sliver of Sky, an article that appeared in a recent Harper’s Magazine, he details the years of boyhood sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a true monster. The story at Harper’s is paywalled, but he did a radio interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. It’s unbelievably wrenching. But you can’t help admire a writer facing that kind of moment — to tell the world or not. His voice, compassion, and wisdom are worth every second. Listen to Barry Lopez here >>

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William Zinsser

“If you would like to write better than everybody else, you have to want to write better than everybody else.”

Zinsser, William


I’m not sure about the ‘better than everybody else’ part. But better yes. Wanting, yes. I love that word. In other words, desire. Speaking of Barry Lopez again and his great big book, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. I’ll never forget the hook in the subtitle, that imagination shapes desire. We can only desire what we can imagine for ourselves. I’ve always thought that hunger, desire, wanting, an almost painful wanting — were essential ingredients to the pursuit of writing. Otherwise, how could you?

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 4. 100 Years Old | Happy Birthday Dick

Richard Nixon campaigning in New York, photo by Gary Winogrand

This past week, January 9, 2013, was the birthday of number 37, one Richard Milhouse Nixon. Had he lived, he’d be 100 years old. There is no American politician, living or gone, who can make as large a claim on our darkest imaginings as Richard Nixon. In celebration, here’s an excerpt from the infamous Dr. Hunter S. Thompson eulogy, He’s a Crook, in The Atlantic Magazine.

“Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”

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5. Song for Sunday | Elza Soares, Pranto Livre

Whoa. Learn more here >>

5 Cool Things for 12.9.2012

To you and to yours I send heartfelt tidings. May your heart (and glass) be full, your children close, your season chipper and your tree tall and straight. As a lover of irony, I did a double take when I read that we ought live without. Speedboat is a fine (if ironic) book from the 70s by a great writer and rebel and it’s coming back round. Two powerful and beautiful women laugh, shoot and play with technology. A website offers an irresistible visual and virtual tour of reading underground. What if a search engine took us to all the cool places, people and things we find in books? Oh, you would like the perfect gift? Check. I had coffee with Voltaire the other day. After I told him my story he looked into my eyes and said, “‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” I could only agree. Thanks for being here. Build yourself a great big fire, light up the tree and have yourself a warm and lovely holiday.

 1. Spanking the Monk Hipster | Christy Wampole Speaks  

Hipster culture is nothing without irony. And irony, fun and delicious, is after all, posturing. So it was only a matter of time before someone issued a course correction to try and make things right. Here is the first sentence from Christy Wampole’s recent screed article in the New York Times, How to Live Without Irony:

“If irony is the ethos of our age — and it is — then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.”

Well. Tell us how you really feel. But what follows is important, I think. It calls on us to be better humans, more genuine and true. Sincere. And no surprise, David Foster Wallace smartly elbows his way into the conversation.

The long haul of irony

From Christy Wampole: “….the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.” (Not sure how financially secure most hipsters are, but that’s off point.)

Deep into this piece comes mention of something new, at least for me — The New Sincerity. Here’s a slice of the New Sincerity articulated by the late David Foster Wallace. From 1993 —


“The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.”

Whether or not DFWs argument for art with reverence and conviction, real feeling and sentiment was rooted in his own suffering, who can say? But reading his words only reminds us of how much we lost when David Foster Wallace took his leave. Snark and ironic detachment are difficult to hold onto when you’re so truly and seriously attached to making great art and you are so unwell that you can no longer live.

But what if Christy Wampole is all wrong? 

All in all a provocative, necessary discussion. Here is How to Live Without Irony. And here, via hipster Jonathan Fitzgerald writing in The Atlantic, is the perfect rebuttal to Christy Wampole and a deeper look at the New Sincerity >>


2. Through Adler’s Telling | Speedboat, by Renata Adler Returns

Speedboat, by Renata Adler

You heard it here first. Speedboat, a 1976 award-winning novel by former New Yorker writer and bomb thrower, Renata Adler, will be reissued by the New York Review of Books. Mark your calendar for March 19, 2013, the same date that the sequel, Pitch Dark, will also be published by the NYRB.

Paris Review writer Anna Wiener fell in love with this book. “To fall head over heels for Speedboat is a fitting reaction to this particular novel, I think. Language—not character, not culture, not love or money or society or truth or journalism or sex or politics or technology or connection, although all of these things are essential, are crucial satellites—pins the center of this book down. Language is the thing. Upon the first reading, during that gray and yawning time, I no longer wanted to see the world for another person; I wanted to see it refracted through Adler’s telling.”

Buy Speedboat here >>


 3. Two Hot Broads | iPhone Photo of the Month

Two hot broads being true to themselves.

If Helen Mirren had been there, the universe would have imploded. Of the many memorable quotes uttered by Hilary Clinton, I dig this, “You have to be true to yourself.” If Hilary becomes more beloved than she already is the sun will fall out of the sky. Fair warning.


Song for Sunday :: Canto De Ossanha :: Jurassic 5


4. Reader, Reader, New York, New York | The Underground Library

Is this hipster ironic or sincere as he reads John Berger on the subway? I say both. (This is for the other John Berger. You know who you are. )

Utterly irresistible photographs of New York Subway riders deep into books. What are they reading? The Financial Lives of the Poets, Don Quixote, Atlas Shrugged, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Ways of Seeing (shown above), The Broom of the System, A Short History of Women, Night, etc. Go look >>

Note the “Borrow’ and ‘Read’ buttons.

(Not affiliated with the NYC public library.)


5. A Very Cool Thing | Small Demons Literary Search Engine

Absolutely brilliant idea. Think of all the places that a good book takes you. Then think about the people, real and not, that a good book brings you. And then imagine a search engine that can connect all those dots and you have Small Demons. Whatever you might find in a story — a cocktail, a cockatoo, a cockpit, a cockroach, a pianist named Ryder, a count named Vronsky — it’s all here. Hard to tell how many books are listed, but there are many. Check it out >>

The screenshot below is from Small Demons.

The Modern Library of the 100 greatest novels. How many have you read?


A Gift Idea for You | Book Book from twelve south   

You so need this. I so need this. An iPhone case that thinks it’s a book.


The company is called twelve south.

twelve south makes cases for iPads and laptops too. Apple products only, so you Android users can just move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Dear twelve south, contact me and I’ll help with the copy.

Here’s a snippet of the copy for all my copywriting friends. It’s workmanlike, but uninspired. For such an uber cool product I want more than phrases like, “convenient ID window” and “slots for your debit/credit cards.” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. What say you?

Thank you.