I started my professional career in the early 90s at a small suburban newspaper in the Gannett chain, first as a reporter, then as an editor. The rules for us in the USA Today farmlands were simple -- keep it short.
At most, only one story could jump from the home page. A 10-inch story? Did it really need to be that long? Opponents thought we provided less depth. That was wrong. Cut out the crap. And be succinct. That serves the reader better. The Internet explosion proved us right. And I've continued to take the "keep it concise" approach to my writing and editing.
Except, unfortunately, on my blog. Have you see some of my posts? Do I think that everybody has the excessive personal time to read my long musings on books or weird music? Do I think I'm the only blog on the Web?
This came into sharper focus as I was looking at the Web site 75 or Less, and its review of Maybe It's Reno, which I discussed back in Playlist 28.I found the 75 or Less reviews a whole lot easier to read than the snarky Pitchfork's rants. Believe it or not, my review of Maybe It's Reno came in at a diminutive 49 words. And that is now my goal and challenge -- aim for 50 words or less on most of my Playlist listings. I give myself one Mulligan on the top review each week, but I have to strive for Fiddy or Less after that.
Let's see how we do this week with Playlist 31.
Personal Days. Ed Park. This witty satire of a paranoia-filled office of "cubicle clusters" has earned numerous accolades, with the LA Times even comparing author Park to Kurt Vonnegut. The book is set at a nondescript company. Knowing Park's background (editor of The Believer and formerly of the Village Voice), I imagine it to be some sort of publishing venture.
A group of young workers, including former grad student Pru, Laars and numerous people whose name begins with a "J," spend their workdays worrying about who will be next to get laid off. The company is taken over the the never-seen Californians. Original Jack was already laid off (and later started a toaster oven restaurant). Those who remain spend their creative energies on nicknames, giving their boss the moniker Sprout and the empty floor where Jill is sent Siberia. Jill, who takes over the responsibilities of a laid off employee without getting any pay increase, has received a deprotion. Employees try to come to terms with the firings by developing their own layoff narrative.
Park, who also lampoons corporate doublespeak and b-s leadership books, breaks Personal Days into three Microsoft Word-like sections -- Can't Undo, Replace All, Revert to Saved. Each chapter is written in a different way. The first is written as a straight narrative. The second chapter is written as a contract, and the final chapter is written as one long run-on sentence e-mail.
Visit Park's Web site, set up as a desktop with e-mail, or The Dizzies, the official Web site of the book. Park is also the editor of The New-York Ghost. Yes, this Park guy is pretty busy.
Now to the Fiddy or Less Playlist items ...
Dear American Airlines. Jonathan Miles. A flight cancellation leaves Bennie Ford stranded at O'Hare. And he's going to miss his daughter's wedding. The novel is Ford's letter to American Airlines. A gimmick? Yes. But it's also a heartbreaking, aching, touching, and often funny story as Ford recounts his sad life over the 170-plus pages.
There Must Be ... 50 Ways to Vote for Obama. This Web site -- the Sufjan Stevens of bumper stickers -- allows you to use your creativity to create state-specific bumper stickers for Obama as well as make a little (I mean very little) money for charity -- and, of course, for the people who run the Web site. Wagonwheel Blues. The War on Drugs. After seeing Bruce Springsteen jam with Arcade Fire, I finally saw his influence on the band. Well, imagine an Arcade Fire influenced instead by Bob Dylan and you've got this exciting new Philly band, who reaches for atmospheric grandeur. Top tracks: Arms Like a Boulder, Taking the Farm and There is No Urgency.
Check out Taking the Farm and Buenos Aires Beach at the top of our newest feature Hear This! -- a regularly updated sampling of songs from albums and artists mentioned in Distractions. Dual Hawks. Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel. I've only downloaded the Centro-Matic side of this dual release. For those who don't know, both bands are led by the prolific Will Johnson. The Centro-Matic half is a collection of mostly mid-tempo indie alt-country rockers. If you like Son Volt, you'll enjoy this band. You can find the lyrics and liner notes on the Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel blog.
And check out the song Twenty-four in Hear This!
Snuff. Chuck Palahniuk. Just about every Palahniuk book review usually includes the word "sick." And this is true here. I loved Rant and Lullaby, but not this book, which feels like it was just thrown together. The premise: An aging porn star makes her final film in which she takes on 600 men in one day. The day unfolds from the perspective of the porn star's assistant and three men waiting in line for their turn (No. 72, No. 137 and No. 600).
So how did I do? Well, nothing went past 60 until I failed to live up to snuff with my Palahniuk review (79 words). But then again, Chuck failed in his quest, too.
And finally, happy Independence Day. Florida's role in that first important July 4th is covered in a great article on the Palm Beach Post front page today. (On page 2, you'll find out that Gov. Crist has gotten engaged -- for the fifth time)! The one-time colony of West Florida is our Weekly Wikipedia link.
The Supreme Court of Awesome