31 May 2008

Candace Bushnell Week: Changing My Name To Victory

I'm not really going to rename myself after one of the three fortysomething heroines of Candace Bushnell's rather pedestrian fourth novel, LIPSTICK JUNGLE. If I wanted to emulate any of these three best friends who happen to be three wildly successful women in present-day Manhattan, I would pick Nico anyway, because she's the editor-in-chief. Not that her life bears more resemblance to mine than Wendy, the movie producer's or Victory, the fashion designer's.

At least these women, unlike stereotypical chick-lit stars, have jobs they care about and are desperate to fight for (Wendy is supervising her pet film, Nico is plotting her ascent to the top of a giant media conglomerate and Victory is weighing some attractive offers from other fashion houses). How desperate is well demonstrated, not put to words, until the last third of the book, where Bushnell inserts some very ham-handed dialogue about women and men, careers and family, love and business. Maybe you, dear readers, have had someone say to you in casual conversation, "The successful woman gives up her career for her children and everyone feels good. But it's not really practical in life, is it?" It hasn't happened to me.

LIPSTICK JUNGLE is not as wry or as well written as the other books, but it was definitely more of a page-turner. Still, Bushnell has this narrative trick she uses throughout the book which really drove me crazy. She would end a chapter on a character about to do something -- say, go to St. Barts for the weekend -- and then start the next section with her on the plane back and narrating everything which had just happened. A few times was fine, but after a while I began to feel like I was missing all the action in this book. But I got a little chuckle when she referred to a New York publishing company as "Ratz Neste." Oh boy, it sure is.

30 May 2008

Candace Bushnell Week: All That And A Pony

When I found out Janey Wilcox, one of the blondes of 4 BLONDES, was the protagonist of Candace Bushnell's next book TRADING UP, I was not looking forward to the ride. Indeed, we pick up while she is engaged in nearly the same activity -- hunting rich men in the Hamptons -- in the opening of the book. Hearing about a model's struggle to survive and attempts to be taken seriously just didn't appeal to this non-model nerd.

Well, TRADING UP isn't my new favorite book still, but I think I underestimated Janey. I had written her off, but if I could compare her to one character in literature, she's really a Scarlett O'Hara type. (I'll pause while my sister, who loves GONE WITH THE WIND, decides what she wants to throw at me.) Janey may appear oblivious to everything but she's thrashing and kicking like crazy underneath to improve her social standing, marry a millionaire (which she does, even though he's completely wrong for her) and to appear untroubled in everything. Central to her plan is cozying up to a socialite named Mimi, something she comes to regret when they both fall for the same man. She also has to support her sister Patty, a minor character in 4 BLONDES whose marriage to a rock star leads to a tabloid ambush.

Lie, cheat, steal or kill, she won't let herself go and she won't move back to wherever she's from. And like Scarlett, sometimes all I could feel towards her was relief that I don't live in that world.

Earlier: Eleven Years After "Sex" and 2 Blondes 2 Many

Tomorrow: I find out what the heck a LIPSTICK JUNGLE is. Sunday: A Filmbook review of "Sex and the City," the movie, with special spoilery comments in case you cannot be bribed to see it.

29 May 2008

Nope, still not buying it.

Ooh, Amazon dropped the price on the Kindle! Oh... just by $40. Can't you all make like the iPhone and knock $200 off it so I can at least imagine buying it, even if I won't? (Though I'm looking forward to playing with my dad's now that he has books loaded on it.)

28 May 2008

Candace Bushnell Week: 2 Blondes 2 Many

I found the 2001 novel 4 BLONDES, when I picked it up, is actually a collection of four novellas, which made me think: Who writes novellas any more? I'm joking, of course; plenty of authors still write them (like Rick Moody, whose last book RIGHT LIVELIHOODS contained three of them). But it wouldn't be unjust to describe the format as neither here nor there -- too long to be collected in bulk or published in a magazine, too short to stand in a book on their own.

The four blondes here all exist in the same universe -- upper-class cultured Manhattan -- and occasionally characters cross among them, but they inhabit different spheres within that universe. In "Nice N'Easy," model Janey's several summers in the Hamptons force her to consider the next step in her career. Winnie in "Highlights (For Adults)" is a columnist who is unhappy in her marriage but unwilling to jettison it entirely if it means not being able to accomplish other goals. In "Platinum," heiress Cecilia believes she's being controlled by a former best friend and in "Single Process," a journalist goes to London to see how they date "over there."

As you probably guessed, I liked two of these novellas more than the others, but I liked 4 BLONDES overall. It definitely made me think, although in a different way from SEX AND THE CITY. It reminded me of one of my favorite books, the '50s career-girl novel THE BEST OF EVERYTHING by Rona Jaffe, in which three friends in New York City struggle with their jobs and their men. There's that same idea of all of them reaching for something better, whether it's landing a British guy or writing a screenplay. These women may only be temporarily distracted by the magic of $400 shoes; they clearly have a goal in mind.

My favorite blonde was Winnie, the career-driven married woman, and I found myself moved by Cecilia's plight despite her privilege. Janey of "Nice N'Easy" annoyed me, but I still wanted to find out what happens to her. (Which is good, because she's in the next book, TRADING UP.) "Platinum" and "Single Process" are both written in the first person, but that final novella is shorter than the others and feels a little tacked on. Still, I tore through this book on the train back from D.C. and if you like chick lit, give it a try.

Tomorrow: Janey returns in TRADING UP, and Friday, LIPSTICK JUNGLE.

Earlier: 11 Years After "Sex"

27 May 2008

1001 Books for 1001 Nights?

I try not to get suckered into those “999 Books You Must Read Now” memes. But I thought it would be an exercise in humility to check out, via Jaime Surplus, this list of 1001 books you must read before you die and, well, see how well I've progressed.

And the answer is, right now, I am so far behind I will never die. I’ve read 156 of these books, or just over 15 percent. But to be fair, 34 of the ones I have read were for school. Also, as a comparative literature major, I really should have read all of these, hmm?

I won't post the full list, but how about some meaningless statistics?
Books on this list I own but haven’t read: 13.
Books I’ve read and blogged about: Many, because there is a LOT of overlap I noticed between the Modern Library list and this list in the 1900s. In fact, an LNVSML book I’m currently reading is on the list (Ford Madox Ford’s THE GOOD SOLDIER).
Number of Joyce Carol Oates title I Googled to jog my memory: 2. I hadn’t read either one (I think). I went through a minor Oates phase in middle school.
Number of Paul Auster books on this list: Apparently 45 (this one goes out to Pearl, but seriously: When did he publish all these books?! He has a kid!)
Books on the list I have read in Spanish: 1, Javier Marias’ A HEART SO WHITE. I had to read it for school. I didn’t like it.
Book I would use my one vote to cast off the island: Julian Barnes' FLAUBERT'S PARROT. Maybe it's because I only had to read MADAME BOVARY, but I couldn't make head or tail of this book, nor did it entertain me at all.
Runner-up for casting off the island: W.G. Sebald's AUSTERLITZ. When I closed this book, all I could think was... "Huh?!"
The one book on this list you should read now, besides ANNA KARENINA: I'm feeling contrary so I'll go to bat for MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis. Read this book with a candle burning and you can see your future. Not really, but it's excellent.
Book I’m sure I read but I didn’t count because I can’t remember a damned thing, not even the ending, and what kind of lame-o can't remember the ending to a thriller for Pete's sake: Stephen King, THE SHINING.

Oh, and Jaime, I had to read CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY in high school as well, though not TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES. I suppose I should count myself lucky.

And yes, 1001 NIGHTS is on the list -- but I haven't read it.

Candace Bushnell Week: Eleven Years After "Sex"

Remember how it was just Memorial Day? Yeah, that happened! And I failed to blog about it, and now it is over. Short answer, I'm still reading the Review Book of Giantness, although I see the light at the end of that 900-page tunnel. But we will move forever forward into Candace Bushnell Week.

Last year the New York Observer, a weekly arts and culture paper here in NYC, began re-running Candace Bushnell's original pieces from when she was their sex and love columnist. Nowadays we know the television show that sprung from them, "Sex and the City," but I was struck by the very different tone the columns have as collected in the book, SEX AND THE CITY.

This book bears very clearly the marks of having come from a newspaper column, one that was driven by topics which change from week to week. There really isn't a linear story except with Carrie and Big, for which Bushnell provides a definite beginning, middle and end. The episodes are anthropological rather than narrative, dealing with "issues" in the New York dating scene like vacations for couples (they never work), threesomes (apparently many men want them?) and Bicycle Boys (a particular species of immature male). Some of them I found curiously applicable, others not so much, but I enjoyed the collection all in all.

Some stray observations:
  • In the show, we follow the adventures (primarily) of four characters. The book has many more characters, some of whom share the names of their fictional counterparts, but there is also the unnamed narrator who herself goes on bad dates, makes mistakes and has adventures. I guess this character is closest to Carrie, because she's a sex columnist just like Bushnell was.
  • If possible, there's even less emotion tied to the sex in this book than in the show. Most married couples are broken off in a one-sentence aside right after their mentions; a trip to Westchester County to a baby shower, where four New York City singles are surrounded by happily married women and their children, is colored by a little longing and a whole lot of disdain. But most of them don't seem that eager to settle down, not even the character named Charlotte (who, in the TV version, is the most conservative, marriage-seeking one of the four friends).
  • These women do not date using the personals. They don't bother going on Match.com (if indeed it even existed back then, it must've been pretty embryonic). This world is pretty foreign to me; I know more than one couple whose relationship began via Craigslist. It seems almost quaint to go back to blind dates.
  • Another thing foreign to me: I am normally not bothered by this, but holy cow were there a lot of drugs in this book. I had expected to find that HBO had toned down the sex in this book for the show; I had not expected that in nearly every chapter someone is snorting or smoking something. I do neither and far be it from me to keep people from indulging in their illegal vices -- my favorite one is drinking coffee on the subway, did you know you can get a ticket for that? -- but there would have been even more outrage at the creators of "Sex and the City" had they kept all that in. (Though there was that one episode where all of the girls get high, it's tinged in a kind of sweet nostalgia -- Oh, they're just having fun, smoking a little pot, no one being harmed.) Maybe I'm just sheltered because I don't normally see people doing coke when I'm out, but... wow. Just wow. Feel free to tell me how naive I am anonymously in the comments.
Tomorrow, la bella novella and 2001's 4 BLONDES. Thursday we'll follow one of those blondes in her adventures in 2003's TRADING UP, and Friday we will fight through the LIPSTICK JUNGLE. Plus, a special Saturday Filmbook of "Sex and the City: The Movie." Goodness, is it pink in here, or is it just me?

22 May 2008

All that is left here is the truth; everything else is gone.

Have you heard James Frey has a novel out? No, not a memoir, an actual novel this time. Most of the criticism has been negative, but he did get a positive review from the New York Times -- positive enough that I added the book to my public library request list, even though I haven't read his since-debunked memoir or its follow-up. (I'm 19th of 113 requesters -- it looks like the NYPL ordered 87 copies but none, or few, of them are in yet.)

Too bad he is apparently doomed to repeat the mistakes of his past. Francis of Ghost Word did some checking on the facts with which the novel in question, BRIGHT SHINY MORNING, is peppered, and found that, whoops, his version of L.A. history is rather inaccurate.

James, buddy, why didn't you take advantage of the book's genre to make up some fake factoids? After all, studies have shown 72 percent of statistics are made up on the spot.

The title for this post comes from the Barenaked Ladies song "Serendipity," which seemed eerily appropriate. Naturally, serendipity is one of my favorite words.

21 May 2008

Seen Reading: Barack Obama

An eagle-eyed New York Times photographer caught Senator Obama in Bozeman, Montana carrying a copy (with placeholder) of Fareed Zakaria's THE POST-AMERICAN WORLD. Good choice, sir! I have a copy of it to review although I haven't had the chance to read it yet; it looks like a very interesting tome.

I'm too tired at the moment to find similar photos of Senators Clinton and McCain, so consider yourself challenged to find them. I'm sure all politicians on the road have a lot of down time in transit and, if disciplined, can get a fair amount of reading done if they're not preoccupied with, you know, running for high office. Reading calms me down, so I would make sure my campaign bus had a lot of books on it. But you already knew that about me.

(Via: kepkanation)

20 May 2008

Well, I made it 20 days.

Even though I said I wouldn't, I mooched a book. Sigh. I know. But how could you resist a title like FRUGAL INDULGENTS: HOW TO CULTIVATE DECADENCE WHEN YOUR AGE AND SALARY ARE UNDER 30? I hope the life of decadence I will soon be leading will make me forget all about my slight indiscretion.

19 May 2008

A plate of lentils!

I had a busy weekend and my thoughts are sadly far from my beloved books, but I wanted to direct your attention to the essay "An Island Scorned" in this week's New York Times Book Review, about the writer V. S. Naipaul and his relationship to the island of Trinidad where he grew up. I knew that Naipaul was Caribbean but I never knew his books inspired such enmity.

I'll be reading A HOUSE FOR MR. BISWAS and A BEND IN THE RIVER as part of my Modern Library project, and that shard of biographical detail has piqued my interest. Has anyone read this book?

18 May 2008

Books and the Stars: Tila Tequila And Who Should Eat, Pray, Love?

Unnecessary Celebrity Author of the Week: I never saw "A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila," but I gather the MTV show was a dating competition that pitted girls against guys for the affection of a bisexual MySpace celebrity. Well, she sold her book this week -- a memoir, of course -- so now we will all find out how to achieve this particular American Dream.

The Elizabeth Gilbert Hype Train Rolls On: Powell's Books.BLOG mentioned the EAT, PRAY, LOVE adaptation, which was officially picked up by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company. But Julia Roberts is already attached to star, which... well, it's a plum role, but I wish it could be a careermaker for a total unknown instead of a J.R. joint. Or a real showcase for someone we've never really seen in a major role like that. My totally out there pick? Emily Mortimer doing an American accent (a reverse "Bridget Jones" if you will!)

17 May 2008

Reading on the Road: Washington D.C.

I'm off to our nation's capital to see my brother compete in a high school tournament, and I couldn't be prouder. Good luck, Max! (He thinks blogs are silly, but that's okay.)

By the time you read this I will already be on the train and probably deep into a chapter. This is where the Goodreads system of having a rankable to-do list breaks down a bit, because I don't want to lug any library books or hardcovers, and maybe a 96-pager is not the best use of my book-space. But here's what I'm bringing:

Candace Bushnell, 4 BLONDES -- for the forthcoming Candace Bushnell week.
Elizabeth Noble, THINGS I WANT MY DAUGHTERS TO KNOW -- One of my book party finds (in advance review copy form). I have two sisters and I'm meeting my mom in D.C., so it may be a bittersweet read.
Jonathan Coe, THE RAIN BEFORE IT FALLS (also an ARC) -- Marjorie lent this to me! Hey, Marjorie! I haven't forgotten.
Review book for EDGE New York: Lewis DeSimone's CHEMISTRY.

I'm also bringing my mom's belated Mother's Day gift of two books, so I'm just 2 volumes away from being a Tom Stoppard. And I'll only be gone Saturday and Sunday... sheesh.

16 May 2008


Last night at book club we discussed Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. The group consensus was that if it should take Junot Diaz another 10 years to write a book, then we will stay upon his leisure.

Very briefly, it's not often that I finish a book and immediately want to read it again. When I shut OSCAR WAO I felt like, while the story was over, my acquaintance with Oscar, the nerdy and frustrated title character growing up Dominican in Paterson, New Jersey, was just beginning. The book is written in a style which lends itself to re-reading because it's so dense with cultural allusions, some of which I'm sure I missed in the first pass. If I could compare its style to any other books, I would say it's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE meets MICROSERFS -- without particularly resembling either one of those.

Anyway, I threw out at the meeting that we should try to cast the forthcoming Miramax adaptation, before realizing how little I knew about Dominican-American actors. Since the author and most of the characters in the book are Dominican it would be neat to cast with that in mind, although Hollywood is not always very sensitive to this. (Remember the controversy over "Memoirs of a Geisha" and its pan-Asian cast?) Well, I did my homework and here's what I've got:

Victor Rasuk as Oscar -- I saw Rasuk in a little indie flick called "Raising Victor Vargas" and he really delivered in it. I believe he was in "Stop-Loss" as well although I didn't see it. He'll have to gain weight for the part, though, because a comedic fat suit won't do the trick.
Judy Reyes (Carla on "Scrubs") stepping out of her comedic bubble to play Oscar's sister Lola.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia, from the original cast of "Rent," as Yunior. He's played a transvestite, now let's see if he can play macho.
Zoe Saldana as young Beli
Cam'ron the rapper as The Gangster
Cameo: Oscar de la Renta as Abelard 'cause why not?
and Michelle Rodriguez playing way, way outside type as Ybón (whose role in the book is kind of a spoiler, so I will leave it there).

There are some major holes in this cast, so if you have any ideas for minor characters, let me know.

15 May 2008

"No, the free one."

As a postscript to yesterday's rant about author marketing and social networking, here's a funny video made by author Dennis Cass about how he's promoting his book HEAD CASE: HOW I ALMOST LOST MY MIND TRYING TO UNDERSTAND MY BRAIN. I'll say this, I had never heard of his book before but I added it to my Goodreads list right after I finished the video. (Via Gawker)

14 May 2008

Are those reads really good?

A bit of a Goodreads rant today, but first, a confession! Yesterday morning's post was not really written yesterday morning! In an act of devious timestampery, I used Blogger's new "scheduled" option to reflect a little on WINESBURG, OHIO when I had time to do so, so while I was dashing off to wherever it is I go when I'm not on the Internet, the blog auto-updated. Oh, the magic! I feel the need to protest, however, that usually I write, if not all of each post, then at least the bulk of it on the morning it goes up. Sometimes I'll scrap out a couple paragraphs right before bed if I get a good idea in the shower. (Too much info? OK.)

So I use Goodreads, and I love Goodreads, but I've been noticing a disturbing trend on it that I will call, with apologies to the site, its Myspaceization. By that I don't mean that the site has been taken over by unstoppable music players and blinky things (we all know how I feel about Flash, and I have never been a MySpace user for many reasons), but as Goodreads has gotten more and more popular authors are starting to use the site to connect with readers who may be adding their books.

In terms of book marketing, these social networking sites are a great way to cut out the middleman (or -woman). Jennifer Weiner made her own group where she has been doing a Q&A this month, where readers have been posting questions which she (or her minions) respond to when they can. That's the ultra-involved route; some authors are fine with putting up a profile, maybe a wee bio. and letting the readers add them. One of my first Goodreads friends was author Tao Lin, whose books I have not read yet (sorry, sir!) but who updates at least semi-regularly. Author Scott Douglas added me as a friend when he saw I put his library memoir QUIET, PLEASE! on my want-to-read list. Now I can see that when he comes across a positive review of his book on the site he checks that he likes it. (I find this bizarrely charming.)

A few times, though, I've been added by authors whose works have nothing to do with me or what I like. When I check their pages, they haven't updated except to connect with hundreds of friends, who they're hoping (I would assume) will go to that author's page and add, or even buy, all her or his books, presumably without bothering to find out what they're about. I'm not going to single any authors out because for all I know, this work is being done on their behalf by well-meaning PR teams or personal assistants.

But it tweaks me a little when someone who exclusively writes, say, romance novels about undead football players, will go out of his or her way to say "Hey, read this book!" to someone who cares not for romance nor football players. (Love the undead, though!) To do this is to undermine what I use Goodreads for, as a fount of recommendations and a way that friends who have read the same books as I have can compare notes. I don't need Charles Dickens* updating my page with, "Hey, you know what a great book to read after THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO would be? THE PICKWICK PAPERS! Why? I'm not going to tell you!"

They are the hot girls on MySpace who just want as many friends as possible so they can get their MTV shows. They're not adding anything; they want me for a statistic. And as much as I respect them for trying out new angles to reach readers, I wish I could tell them that what they're doing is just Spam 2.0.

*Charles Dickens does not update his Goodreads page, for he is dead.

13 May 2008

24. Sherwood Anderson, WINESBURG, OHIO

If the residents of this small Midwestern town were alive 60 years later, we would know them from the work of B. Springsteen instead of S. Anderson. A man with a passion for teaching gets his dream job ripped away from him with one misinterpreted gesture; a minister loses his faith when he catches sight of a beautiful congregant through a window; a hired hand decides to give his friend real advice for once, only to chicken out at the point of speech. These are the residents of Winesburg and with one exception they are a sad, defeated lot. That one is George Willard, an 18-year-old who works for the Winesburg Eagle and who often hears or witnesses moments in the lives of these unhappy people, old and young, as told through Sherwood Anderson's short stories.

I had a hell of a time getting into this book. Maybe it's because I was reading it on Dailylit and thus getting its fragmented stories in further fragments, but I searched in vain for someone I knew to "explain" it to me -- to give me a reason (other than this Modern Library project) to continue with the book when I felt so confused by it.

Eventually, though, I hit upon my own method of appreciating Anderson's pitiable people: My seventh-grade geography teacher used to read us a Zen quote of the day (off one of those page-a-day calendars) and afterwards encourage us to let out a meditational, "Ahhh." Once I got the rhythm and the tone of Anderson's stories down, I felt like that after finishing each episode -- taking a moment to reflect, and then going on. Some of them I found tremendously poignant, while others just puzzled me, but the last five or six stories were extremely powerful.

Those, more than others, dealt with George's own romantic interest in the town and with the life of his mother, who in herself is a tragic figure. The third-to-last story is called "Death," but even without that parallel it would have reminded me of the ultimate story in James Joyce's DUBLINERS. Here's an example of the elegiac quality which captivated me so much in those last few pages, from a passage about George walking with a girl from the town near the fairgrounds:
There is something memorable in the experience to be had by going into a fair ground that stands at the edge of a Middle Western town on a night after the annual fair has been held. The sensation is one never to be forgotten. On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people. Here, during the day just passed, have come the people pouring in from the town and the country around. Farmers with their wives and children and all the people from the hundreds of little frame houses have gathered within these board walls. Young girls have laughed and men with beards have talked of the affairs of their lives. The place has been filled to overflowing with life. It has itched and squirmed with life and now it is night and the life has all gone away. The silence is almost terrifying. One conceals oneself standing silently beside the trunk of a tree and what there is of a reflective tendency in his nature is intensified.

One shudders at the thought of the meaninglessness of life while at the same instant, and if the people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears come into the eyes.
A Whole Lot Of Stuff About WINESBURG, OHIO
Progress of LNVSML: 46 read, 54 unread.

Next up on Dailylit and in LN VS. the Modern Library: #30, Ford Madox Ford's THE GOOD SOLDIER.

12 May 2008

Book Party Brag Box

I hope you all had a lovely Mother's Day weekend. I tried to come up with a post about the best moms of literature, but I found the field, at least from what I've read recently, to be kind of lacking. Then I read TIME magazine's "Best Moms" list for inspiration and when I got to Dumbo's mom it, uh, got a little dusty in my room, so I gave up. (I never even liked that movie!) But here's to my mom anyway, who read SNIPP, SNAPP, SNURR AND THE GINGERBREAD, GO DOG GO and STREGA NONA to me at least 100,000 times.

I did end up going to the book giveaway party I mentioned on Friday and holy cow, what a haul! There were about 10 of us there and between us we probably walked away with half the books on the shelves (plus one guest with a car promised to take away everything that remained on Moving Day -- awesome for the hostess). Here's what I picked up:
  • Steven Gaines, PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW: PASSION AND PROPERTY IN THE HAMPTONS -- I spotted this one at the Strand a few times but ended up putting it back; still, I can't resist something free!
  • Jillian Medoff, HUNGER POINT
  • Jennifer Belle, HIGH MAINTENANCE -- Jennifer Belle is a New York City-based novelist whose name seems to turn up on blogs and in reviews all the time. Now I can see what the fuss is about with her second novel.
  • Sarah Dunn, THE BIG LOVE -- Read in 2006, gave it away, wanted to reread it again.
  • Sheri Holman, THE MAMMOTH CHEESE -- I read Holman's book THE DRESS LODGER back in high school when she came to speak to our school, at which time she was working on this second novel about a small town trying to break a record set by Thomas Jefferson.
  • Marisha Pessl, SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS -- I named it one of my favorite fiction books of 2006 but I read it so fast I barely had a chance to absorb it. The hostess had it in paperback and liked it but not enough to keep it, which is lucky for me.
I told my mom about the party when I called her for Mother's Day and she said, "You should throw one of those!" Sheesh. Yeah.

10 May 2008

Books and The Stars: Ellen Page and Geri Halliwell

Honest to blog, Mr. Rochester? Academy Award-nominated actress Ellen "Juno" Page is set to play Jane Eyre in the umpteenth adaptation of the Bronte novel, according to Variety. The adaptor of the recent historical adaptation "The Other Boleyn Girl" is involved but there is no director, and more importantly no Mr. Rochester, announced yet. (I'm thinking, pull a "Ghost World" and cast Steve Buscemi as Rochester -- he's older than her and he needs a role that's completely opposite from what he usually does. And Blake Lively in a minor role as Jane Eyre's sainted friend who [SPOILER] dies tragically.) Other Janes have included Joan Fontaine and most recently Charlotte Gainsbourg. (Related: my review of WIDE SARGASSO SEA, a postcolonialist response to JANE EYRE.)

Celebrity author of the week: Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, whose signing for her children's book UGENIA LAVENDER in Essex, England was disrupted this week when she got stuck in an elevator for an hour. She had to be rescued by firefighters! That's a lot of excitement for a book signing.

09 May 2008

What not to bring to a party

I'm going to a special kind of party this weekend -- a book giveaway party! Someone I know from my (typically neglected) other blog, also the proprietress of History is Funny, is moving and invited all and sundry to come take books away so she won't have to sell or move them. There is a caveat, though: While we can take as many books as we want, we are not allowed to bring any for her in return. Of course, that would defeat the purpose!

That admonition reminds me of when I was little and had no social skills. My parents would take us to dinner at people's houses, and I would beg and whine to be able to take a book with me. It wasn't just at their friends' houses either -- I have a picture of myself at age 6 on Christmas Day, and while I look ready to sit at the table and eat with my relatives, I am clutching my newly received LITTLE HOUSE COOKBOOK (recipes inspired by the Laura Ingalls Wilder series -- really!) and I know I was just dying to get the dinner and the picture taking over with so I could go read. Now I know that the real way to kill time at a family function is to seek out pets and/or small children to entertain.

Aside from that foray, which ought to yield many fun finds, this is going to be a great weekend to stay inside and read. The pollen forecast is "medium-high to high," which I am translating in my brain to "pretty-damn-miserable to holy-cow-I'm-moving-to-the-Arctic." I know I've been a little uninspired this week, and that is why. Since every allergy drug I've tried turns me into a narcoleptic zombie, I am expending all my energy in trying not to itch my eyes and sneeze more than 30 times an hour. It's almost summer, right?

08 May 2008

Cover Love: Bond Babe Books

Even before 2006's "rebooted" Bond franchise and new suit Daniel Craig, Penguin came out with these fun, pulp-inspired covers for the Ian Fleming Bond novels:

But those don't hold a candle to the new hardcover editions with a Bond-girl motif celebrating author Ian Fleming's birth. Here's the new cover of CASINO ROYALE:

I feel a little guilty for liking these, but I adore the distinctive colors. Many of the women have their backs turned and that '60s-style font for the titles. (Also, the Penguin lodged inside the 007? LOVE. Give that designer a big raise.) I haven't read any of the Bond novels, but my source Ryan the Outlaw Genius says the cover redesign "almost makes you forget how horrible the writing is inside."

I liked the older design of CASINO ROYALE all right, but some of those covers are less fun than downright disturbing.
"In order to solve this mystery, you must permit me to ski all over you."

You don't need eyes to appreciate a good playing-card bikini.

Masked Men Traverse Dangerous Boobs

07 May 2008

Filmbook: "Bright Lights, Big City" (1988)

Well, I promised the most awesomely '80s Filmbook ever, and "Bright Lights, Big City" did not disappoint.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, novel and film, covers a week (roughly) in the life of a young 20-something New Yorker named Jamie (played by Michael J. Fox) who works at a magazine but really wants to be a writer. Jamie is pretty miserable: His wife, a model, has left him, and he spends his nights alternately sweating over his typewriter and trying to enjoy wild nights out in clubs with his best friend, Tad Allagash (Kiefer Sutherland).

I identified with this book more than I expected to, not only because of Jamie's job woes but because I always had the impression this book was about coke and debauchery. While there is some debauchery involved, it's very much a coming-of-age story, where McInerney take a character whose life looks perfect for about 3 paragraphs and spends the rest of the book dismantling that guy and that facade. I identified with Jamie more than I had planned on when I took him for just a rich cokehead.

The book is written in a way that (club references aside) is not particularly dated, unlike the movie which is HILARIOUSLY dated. Just the casting of Fox and Sutherland as best friends with their matching high-altitude hair is enough to seal this film in the Hall of Very '80s Things forever, without even counting Phoebe Cates' appearances as Jamie's model wife.* The soundtrack, the clothes and the 'look' of '80s New York -- things that were not specifically conveyed on the page -- date this movie in a way that is enjoyable, not annoying. It serves as a time capsule for the world that McInerney's book, published just four years earlier, tried to capture. I recommend the book because of its universality but the movie because of its specificity. And as someone who knows Fox from "Back to the Future" pretty much exclusively, I was impressed by the performance he turned in and the way he really made me feel for Jamie.

Despite how deliciously '80s it was, the movie mishandled something which I thought was very well done in the book. While almost none of the book's second-person narrative made it into the film, that didn't make me quite as irritated. Roughly 170 pages into the book, you find out about a Big Traumatic Event in Jamie's past. (Not the one I reference above.) When this Big Traumatic Event comes into focus, suddenly many of his choices earlier make sense, but there is hardly any foreshadowing to that event.

The movie reveals the Big Traumatic Event about 25 minutes in, and long before that you see strange out-of-context scenes that hint at it. They aren't too common, just common enough to really grate on anyone who has any sense. And their handling of it for the rest of the movie isn't particularly subtle, either, except for one scene that knocks it completely out of the park. Oh Hollywood, must you iron your silk dresses with locomotives? Still...

Filmbook Verdict: Read the book, then see the movie.

*Other favorite cameos in this movie: Swoosie Kurtz as Jamie's only friend at work, Frances Sterngarten (AKA Trey's mom on "Sex and the City") as his boss and, for about 5 seconds, David Hyde Pierce as a bartender at a fashion show.

Filmbook Delay

This week on Filmbook, I have potentially the most '80s movie I never knew existed -- "Bright Lights, Big City" starring Michael J. Fox, Kiefer Sutherland and Phoebe Cates, based on the incredibly '80s novel of the same name by Jay McInerney (part of the New York Books Canon). But I only got it from Netflix yesterday, and I frittered away my time last night at my first ever Madison Square Garden concert.

Check back tonight for the most '80s Filmbook entry ever. Your neon scrunchies are safe here.

06 May 2008

Can't keep a Dietgirl down!

I have been good so far this month and haven't mooched anything, but I just got a book I mooched in April in the mail -- and I'm almost tempted to say it shouldn't count, since it isn't even out in the U.S. yet! That book is THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF DIETGIRL by the health and fitness blogger of the same moniker, and it is out now in the U.K. but will be published by HarperCollins here in 2009.

I haven't started the book yet but I'm a little disappointed (naturally) by the publishing strategy which delayed it Here's why: Most of the time, it doesn't matter that the book I read today was out in, say, Switzerland or Australia six months ago. But all the readers of Dietgirl's blog, no matter their country of origin, read the same posts and see the same website. We all knew when the book was put out there, even if it wasn't for us.

Anyway, some shrewd folks have caught onto this and are selling other editions of THE AMAZING ADVENTURES... on Amazon Marketplace here in the U.S. This is good -- except that the lovely author probably isn't making a royalty on those, since they're being sold second- or even thirdhand. (Thirdhand?) At the same time, by my mooching the book I am not giving her any money either, though my copy appears to be a not-for-sale proof from the British market. The proper thing to do would be to buy it directly from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.ca. (That's right, Canada gets it before we do. Yuk it up, Canucks.)

But if HarperCollins had the option to put the book out earlier, even a few months after the UK release... why didn't they? They could be cashing in right now. I'd be happy to read around references to, oh, "biscuits" and "rubbish" and whatever else needs to be "translated" between an English and American version if I can get a book sooner. I hope the delay wasn't due to a suit by the Superman estate for that amazing cover design. Copyright law is not super sometimes.

05 May 2008

Some Girls Are More Certain Than Others

Jennifer Weiner's new novel CERTAIN GIRLS takes place 13 years after GOOD IN BED, in which Cannie, a twentysomething newspaper reporter, finds out the boyfriend she just dumped is writing about their sex life in a national magazine, gets depressed, gets knocked up, and (eventually) gets her act together. Cannie is now a full-time fiction writer, ghostwriting a popular sci-fi series. She is married to her love interest from CERTAIN GIRLS, Peter, and they are raising her daughter Joy together in Philadelphia. Cannie and Joy take turns narrating this book, so the plot follows two different tracks: Cannie is planning Joy's bat mitzvah and trying to deal with Peter's wish that they have another baby (through a surrogate since she had a hysterectomy); Joy gets curious enough about her mother's life to read the bestselling novel her mom wrote about her pre-baby life, and has to deal with the ramifications of that and of figuring out her place in her blended family.

I haven't done this with any of the other books, but I actually want to reread CERTAIN GIRLS soon; I wanted to know what was going to happen so badly I tore through it in an evening. I'm not surprised at all that Weiner wants to write a YA book, because CERTAIN GIRLS is half that -- and I think the strongest half. Maybe I just sympathized with Joy more because I'm closer to angsty teenager than worried mom, but I found their conflict realistic and compelling. The struggle for understanding and the gulf that develops there is something I think most people can relate to, and it's not a spoiler to say that Cannie and Joy both have their moments of not being very good to each other. Two things happen at the end that I didn't like, but at the same time, I couldn't put the book down to see what was going to happen next. (As usual, those will be in the comments.)

Another thing I really liked about this book were all the silly asides. This book makes fun of a lot of things -- scifi fandom, THE SECRET, the over-the-top opulence of the modern bar and bat mitzvah -- in a way that doesn't distract from the narrative, but gives you a little jab, like "Hey! I think that too!" Because Cannie is an author there's some metafictional stuff going on when she talks about her novel and her publishing company, but it doesn't distract.

I'll close this post by addressing the review which caused the most commotion around the book's release. Author Jane Smiley, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, criticized the book for being "pink" both in color (cover and endpapers both) and in subject (neglecting the male characters for a plot and material that would appeal only to females). I highly doubt that Weiner set out to write a book men couldn't read, and who knows how much input she had into the cover design, but I wonder if Smiley isn't pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Instead of asking, "Why is this book about a mother and daughter?" I would rather ask, "What's in our culture that a book about a mother and a daughter can't have broad appeal?"

Sure, male readers may not be able to relate to some things that happen in the book, but that shouldn't put them off. Although I'm sure Smiley didn't intend this, I find the notion that Weiner should have expanded the roles of the male characters in the book to be a little misogynistic, when children's book characters are disproportionately male and it's news when a movie starring two women takes the top spot at the box office. I didn't really notice their absence. I have another comment about this that I will leave in the spoiler pit below.

04 May 2008

Books and the Stars: David Beckham, Brad Pitt, "Sex and the City"

Brought to you by the letter F and the number 23: Like many kids who were born in the '70s or '80s I have no doubt my love of reading was nurtured and encouraged by watching "Sesame Street." The veteran PBS kids' show still has its wacky celebrity guests -- in fact, soccer (football) star David Beckham just filmed a segment with Elmo. Of course, it will never get better than Smokey Robinson being attacked by the giant letter U. (Can I just link to this clip once a month? It is so fantastic, and by fantastic, I mean frightening.) This exhaustive list will tell you whether your favorite celebrity has appeared on "Sesame Street" yet.

No country for young authors: The next Coen Brothers movie is a heist film of sorts, but instead of a prisoner's buried treasure or a briefcase full of drug money, the sought-after prize is a memoir. Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand play a pair of gym employees who come into possession of the autobiography of a recently fired CIA agent (John Malkovich). Not only does the agent need the confidentiality-breaching document back, his estranged wife (Tilda Swinton) and one of his CIA bosses (CoBro buddy George Clooney) are also dying to get their hands on the book. The follow-up to Best Picture winner "No Country for Old Men" is called "Burn After Reading" and it will open the Venice Film Festival in late August.

Are we wearing our hair, or is our hair wearing us? In preparation for the "Sex and the City" movie I mooched Candace Bushnell's original book as well as her follow-ups FOUR BLONDES and LIPSTICK JUNGLE. But I just found out that Evan Handler, who played Charlotte's divorce lawyer and -- spoiler alert -- eventual husband on the show, has written a memoir about his battles with leukemia called IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY: THE GOOD NEWS AND THE BAD NEWS OF BEING ALIVE. I mention this not because I'll probably read it, but it has the funniest cover of any book I've seen this year. Go on, go ahead and click.

03 May 2008

How do you organize your books?

It's a gloomy, cloudy day in New York and I'm staring at my bookshelves which, as usual, are a mess. While not exactly higgelty-piggelty, my system for shelving leaves a lot to be desired. Currently all the books are separated into read-versus-unread, and beyond that there's not much of rhyme or reason to it, especially when you take into account that my collection no longer fits into my two bookshelves, with a shameful cache located under my desk. (My roommate was griping the other day about how he has too many books in the apartment -- his two-foot-high shelf is all full, the horrors.)

In past weekends when I was bored I have alphabetized the books, separated hardcovers from paperbacks and (once, and most appealing if least useful) arranged all of them by color. What's your system? And may I borrow it?

02 May 2008

Just desserts for a whiner

Remember how I whinged about my borrowed copy of SACRED GAMES, eventually buying the paperback because it was just too hard to carry around?

I have gotten my due all right. I picked up a couple of packages yesterday morning of new review books and one of those -- well, it's not 1100 pages, but it's about 900. Hardcover, not paperback. I asked for this book, and it's on a subject that really interests me, but I'm going to have to upgrade to a tote bag to take it anywhere.

What I'm saying is, serves me right! At least I can use it to do arm curls when I'm not reading it. Here's what I will be carrying around this weekend, besides that book:

  • Junot Diaz, THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. My book club is doing this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and I'm excited because I might not have been motivated to get around to it right away otherwise. Oddly enough, I saw Mr. Diaz doing a book signing last fall at the New Yorker Festival -- he had so many fans they were lined up with switchbacks like roller-coaster riders. But A.M. Homes, who was doing a signing at the same time, had no fans in line, so my friend and I hung out with Ms. Homes (whom we had heard speak with Miranda July at a panel the night before) for a bit.
  • David J. Schwartz's SUPERPOWERS. Could a modern-day Justice League be lurking in Madison, Wisconsin of all places? Well, let's hope so.
  • Naomi Ragen, THE SATURDAY WIFE. This book, which I picked up off the New Releases shelf at the library, is part of a niche of literature I have enjoyed in the past -- literature about Orthodox Jewish women. I'm not Jewish myself, but the community is fascinating and unknown to me. If I like this book as much as I liked Tova Mirvis' THE LADIES AUXILIARY or Naomi Alderman's DISOBEDIENCE, it will be a serendipitous find.

01 May 2008

Unbookening Third Month Is Not The Charm

The Third Month of the Great Unbookening
8 books mooched
13 books checked out of the library
6 books received for review
Bought 6 books
Was given 1 book
Borrowed 1 book from a friend
Got 1 book back from a friend
= 36 books in.

4 books given away on BookMooch
13 books returned to the library
Sold 1 book on Amazon
Gave 6 books as gifts
Lent 2 books to a friend
Returned 1 book
= 28 books out.

Total: 8 more books in than out, a tiny, insignificant improvement over last month. Year to date: 34 more books in than out.

I read more books than last month but I'm still not getting through the stacks of books I own. So I did something drastic. Since I would have broken even with my books were it not for Bookmooch, I moved every single book on my wishlist (where the site e-mails you when a copy is available) onto my "save-for-later" list. The only reason I'll be visiting the site is to list books to give away. I'm aiming to mooch no books in May.

Adorable kitten bookend picture: baggis.

FYI, the books I read this month (italics denotes books I reviewed) were:

David Gilmour, THE FILM CLUB
Anna Godbersen, THE LUXE
Cecil Castellucci, THE P.L.A.I.N. JANES
Jen Lancaster, SUCH A PRETTY FAT
future Filmbook entry!
Jennifer Weiner, CERTAIN GIRLS --
review coming tomorrow!