31 October 2009

Halloween news you should care about

Entertainment Weekly writes that Quirk Books plans to publish a sequel to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES next year called -- wait for it -- DAWN OF THE DREADFULS. Pro: Great name, interesting concept, creepy-little-kid cover. Con: No ability to draw on a Jane Austen plotline.

30 October 2009

Rogue censor strikes Columbia, Tennessee library system

An unknown patron of the Maury County Library has been crossing out words in his or her borrowed books before returning them. The library is keeping the books in circulation because it can't afford to replace them, so other patrons will have to guess what dirty word was used in THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT.

It's not clear to me why, if librarians know which books were defaced, they can't just compare circulation records and single out the patron who recently checked out all those books. (And then go to that patron's house and spray-paint a giant obscenity on it. Censor this, you clod!) But to whoever's doing this, a much better prank would have been to just black out random words and make future readers confused.

Graphic: questionabletopic

Plagiarism Comedy "Gentlemen Broncos" In Theatres Today

Starring Sherri Ann Cabot, Ned Schneebly and, uh, Jemaine:

29 October 2009

Publishers Weekly's Best 10 Books Of 2009

Read it and weep! A list of 100 will follow next week in the print edition, although last year's best list was well over 100 volumes long; I guess we must conserve our praise. This list is also a few weeks earlier than last year's, so if your book hasn't made it out in review copies yet, you're out of luck.

Out of the 10 I have read one, David Grann's THE LOST CITY OF Z. I liked it, but I have no idea whether it will make my best list for the year. (I had read four on last year's list.) Have you read any of these books? Care to share with the class?
“That was my BELL JAR, my TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. I thought that if it had been real they would just give me the factory — they wouldn’t even bother with a contest and those other kids.”

--Author and candy connoisseur Paul Rudnick on a significant book from his childhood, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.

28 October 2009

E-Reader Mockery: Meet The ¿Qué?

Barnes and Noble announced yesterday they will start selling readers made by competitor Plastic Logic, even though they are bringing out their own digital reader later this year.

GalleyCat notes that the name of the device, is pronounced "Q," but we will adopt the name Spanish speakers will use for it: The What? It's the apocryphal Chevy Nova story come true!

Also, the company's website capitalizes its full name accordingly: the "QUE proReader." Back in my day, medial capitals were rationed for the good of the nation. We stretched and did without, so the boys in blue could take those medial capitals to war. We didn't complain! That was just the way it was! Now get off my lawn!

Previously: The Vook; The Nook.

This Halloween, dress like a poet or make your pet do it for you

The Academy of American Poets offers a not-that-tongue-in-cheek guide to dressing up like a famous poet. Like the William Carlos Williams one, and it would be easy to put together on short notice.

Elsewhere in Halloween, the New Yorker had a literary-figure costume contest for pets, which is where this hard-boiled Sam Spade came from. I also appreciated Cat Humbert Humbert and Turtle Kurt Vonnegut.

I don't have any pets and I wouldn't even be dressing up at all this year, but my office is having a contest and the organizers are worth humoring. I probably won't be going as a book character because I always end up explaining it when I could be mainlining candy pumpkins; my ideas are grand but my execution is flawed. I did think about looking for a Doctor Manhattan bodysuit, since WATCHMEN costumes appear to be more popular than the movie was, but the effect would be ruined if I then had to put my own clothing over it to make it work-decent. ("So you're giant and blue... and wearing women's pants...")

27 October 2009

Klosterman times two

Item the first: Chuck Klosterman has a new book out! I haven't read it but it's called EATING THE DINOSAUR and I will be prowling the new-releases shelf at the library for it. ESPN has an excerpt from it and Simonandschuster.com has part of the first chapter, about switching from interviewer to interviewee.

Item the second: Klosterman's memoir FARGO ROCK CITY is going to be made into a movie about (fictional) teenage metal fans. That in itself isn't very newsworthy until you find out that the screenplay will be co-written by frontman we love from band we love, Craig Finn of The Hold Steady.


"Till the day you die I hope you never, never know what it feels like to have someone cut you open all the way down the front of you and let the freezing blast of air inside."
Thomas Hobbes once wrote that mankind life in the state of nature tends to be "nasty, brutish and short." John O'Hara would definitely agree with this description. This book was short (my Penguin Classics edition, the same one I could have hit a squirrel with, had HUGE text) and had its share of nastiness and brutishness -- a book it clearly influenced, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, looks optimistic by comparison -- but satisfying.

One night, Julian English, an upper-middle-class used-car dealer, married, no kids, gets drunk and throws a drink in someone's face at the country club. In the claustrophobic Pennsylvania town where he lives, doing this ruins his life; although he seems surprised at every turn at the consequences, we're not. Anyone's face would have been bad enough, but his target, Harry Reilly, is quite well-liked in town, a self-made man as opposed to Julian's inherited wealth; he's also part of the town's vocal Catholic minority, and the allegations by other people in town of prejudice seem to be... not completely unfounded. (We later find out there's another really good reason he shouldn't have thrown a drink at him.)

I thought this book was incredibly well-constructed; there wasn't a lot of action in terms of people going off and doing things, but the shifts in perspective between Julian, his wife Caroline and Al Grecco, a local mob operative, kept up the pace. Historically speaking, it's also a useful reminder that the Great Depression, during which this book is set, didn't affect the entire country equally -- extremely obvious point I know, but it bears repeating. The Englishes' hometown of Gibbsville is more affected by Prohibition, which (unsurprisingly, given how much Julian drinks) plays a crucial role in the story. And, as in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and "Mad Men," there's the shadow of a war -- in this case, World War I -- and the issue of Julian's non-service is thrown at him in a way that makes you suspect it is always brought up when someone really wants to wound him, like Philip Carey's foot.

At the same time, I had trouble getting a handle on Julian. His unreliability is established so early on that what he said didn't seem to matter -- when it wasn't "I love scotch. Scotch, scotchy scotch" -- but the rumors about his behavior that he is forced to confront after the incident suggest no one around him is particularly inclined to tell the truth, either. I felt closest to deciphering who he was in a flashback about him running away at fourteen, and via Caroline, who describes him as "turning on the charm like the water in the tub."

No one in Julian and Caroline's circle owns a farm any more; their idea of nature is sneaking out onto the golf course at the country club with their lovers. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA could be taken as a negative to Thornton Wilder's "Our Town": if we leave farming entirely, our sons will become alcoholics and our daughters will be promiscuous. That's way more simplistic than O'Hara is setting out to be -- the chapter on a young Caroline falling in love and trying to decipher the related social mores is one of the best and subtlest in the novel -- but Julian and Caroline are no George and Emily, which root cause is explored in the book. But when I looked it up, I found out "Our Town" was actually written after APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA was published, which makes it look either reassuring or more blindly nostalgic. I love "Our Town," but it made me question that fondness, not that I minded. In fact, I definitely want to check out some of O'Hara's other work.

LN VS. ML: 51 read, 49 unread.

Next up:
I've started #49 WOMEN IN LOVE on Dailylit already; otherwise, either #50 Henry Miller's TROPIC OF CANCER (despite strong warnings against it) or #92 William Kennedy's IRONWEED.

26 October 2009

I haven't had time to watch any of these yet (see fool's errand, below) but The Daily Beast has posted a bunch of videos of Philip Roth talking about his new book THE HUMBLING. I read somewhere, I can't remember where, that this is Roth's only interview he's planning to give for the book -- and when you're Philip Roth, you can get away with telling your publisher that -- but he was also busy at his 50th high school reunion.

Kickin' through the autumn leaves and wonderin' where it is you might be goin' to

Yesterday's fool's errand culminated in some reading on the front terrace of the Brooklyn Public Library. The late-afternoon sun hits it perfectly, but the building closes at 4:00 so the guys who work there start yanking the chairs around 3:25.

Across the street is a brand-new condo building designed by Richard Meier (pictured), in case you wanted to be neighbor to a library and are a raging exhibitionist.

25 October 2009

"A book hasn't caused me this much trouble since WHERE'S WALDO went to that barber pole factory!"

-Tracy Jordan. On this week's "30 Rock" Tracy discovers that Liz Lemon used a lot of his foibles to write her book, which is ruining her male coworkers' lives. (Except Jack's, naturally.) And of those three, Alec Baldwin has written a book, Tina Fey is under contract to write one and Tracy Morgan's book just came out.

24 October 2009

I love a good unnecessary comma.

You can get this on a T-shirt from a donkey rescue organization. Moreover, you must.

NYC: Congratulations, it's a bookstore!

Baby indie Greenlight Bookstore officially opens today in Fort Greene and doesn't it look handsome. One of its parents -- er, owners -- was inspired to open a bookstore from a college job at Three Lives in the West Village.

I hear there is free champagne starting at 7. And by "I hear," I mean it's on their invitation. You all raise a glass for me.

Photo: The Local

23 October 2009

It's an e-book kind of week: Meet Kindle for PC

First there was the Kindle, then there was the Kindle iPhone application. Now Amazon is releasing the Kindle for PC, an application you can download for free and buy e-books with to read on your screen or, should you have a Kindle, sync to that so you're on the same "page" wherever you're reading.

I spend enough time staring at screens of various sizes, I don't buy most of my books and the ones I buy are often less than Amazon's going price. Also, while I own a PC laptop, it currently won't start, so I have no way to download this. Still, I think it's an intriguing idea. I had a very negative experience with public library e-books, but I think Amazon can do it better.

As a program designed to bring in new users, in the way that iTunes warms people up to the idea of owning a Mac, it could be very good for Amazon, but the demand for e-books is not like the demand for legal music and TV shows. A commenter at Engadget points out that this could turn any cheap netbook into a faux-Kindle which, based on this reviewer's report, might be more durable and pick up better wireless than the Kindle itself. (Distressingly, she also writes that the case weighs the same as a hardcover... portability fail!) According to CrunchGear, Barnes & Noble has had a PC e-reader for a while, and hey, look at that -- not only does it work for Mac, you get 6 free books when you download it. It makes one wonder, why isn't B&N further ahead?

Five Shakespeare Plays I Wish Had Been Discovered Instead Of "Edward III"

"Ariel And Caliban" Precursor to the modern buddy movie. Prospero's semi-willing partners in crime get up to their own tricks -- it's every supporting pair of Disney characters ever meets "Pineapple Express."(1)

"Nurse Before Capulet" Before she gave counsel to a young Juliet, the character who Shakespeare didn't even bother to name properly(2) had her own... forbidden... affair.(3)

"Exeunt, Pursued By A Bear" A meta-play about the source of inspiration in which a well-known playwright named Wilfred Shakes struggles to envision a romance for adults, beat writer's block and keep his bills paid.

"Portia, J.D."(4) She was just a Venetian socialite when she argued the case that made her famous. Now she's rewriting postnups for her former social rivals by day and solving the murder of a government informant that will take her right up to the Doge's palace.

"Leaving Elsinore" It really sucks when your best friend's murderous uncle finally gets to him! But sometimes in life, there's nothing to do but move forward. [Cue Sara Bareilles] This sequel was reviled by the critics but made a lot of money at the box office.

It's Friday, go on and write your own.

1. And as with "Pineapple Express," the play ends with SPOILER Prospero, Ariel and Caliban, all slightly singed and sitting in a diner where Prospero tries to launch into "Our revels now are ended" and Caliban throws his coffee in his face. Really ahead of its time. /SPOILER
2. Does that bother anyone else?
3. Based on "Coco Before Chanel" which is an all right movie, I'd say rent it if you like Audrey Tautou and period dramas.
4. No disrespect to the lawyers in the crowd who did much more to become qualified than make stirring speeches and cross-dress. Although I'm sure you could do those too, if you wanted...

22 October 2009

On Malcolm Gladwell

Did it seem to anyone else that last week's New Yorker "fall books" issue didn't really have an overwhelming amount of book coverage in it? There were the three arts essays and the feature on Alloy (nothing new to see there) but the article that really stuck out for me was the profile of corporate espionage expert Jules Kroll, which had nothing to do with reading aside from what you can find in other people's trash. My favorite book-related piece was James Wood's Lydia Davis review, I think.

I realize the issue is already a week and a half old but it's rare that my New Yorker reading is even this timely; I'm usually three or four issues behind. This is my own fault, because unlike with other magazines I subscribe to I like to read as much of it in one sitting as I can, and that's rare. In other words, I have conditioned myself to limit my reading of it, which is why I don't have a stack of Time Outs (whose editorial content, listings aside, I can consume in about the time it takes to cook pasta) on my nightstand.

At the same time, I could train myself out of that limitation to read in any spare moment that comes along, which is what Malcolm Gladwell argued in his talk on Saturday American society has done to drinking. In the program Gladwell was listed as speaking on Michael Vick, the topic of his article that week, but he announced up top that he wanted to speak about an unpublished article on social customs and alcohol incorporating Italian immigrant food diaries and why this beer ad is the most realistic on the airwaves.

Gladwell is a very animated speaker without being obviously polished. I imagine he is very much in demand for corporate gigs, but he talked about this story-to-be with the excitement of your friend who just visited this amazing city or saw this crazy documentary and is just burbling up with the freshness of the world. He didn't actually burble, but he was in that neighborhood of enthusiasm over a piece he had been working on for at least a few months (after reading a book about addiction, he said in the Q&A).

I mock Gladwell for things like the last chapter of OUTLIERS (I'll spoil it in the comments if you want? It's super lame) but his job is to read books, talk to people and think about things, and that is an enviable job. So okay, maybe the Malcolm Powder got in my eyes a little bit, in the strictly professional sense. It was time to test my vision by getting around to the Vick piece, which visits scientists who study brain damage in current and former NFL players and leaps from there to the cruelty of dog-fighting and the damage it inflicts on dogs. Oh yes, he went there. I'm not saying Johnny Quarterback With A Full Ride is thinking clearly about the mental-health challenges that result from getting a lot of concussions in his career, but to suggest athletes who make short-term decisions influenced by a head-turning amount of money are no better than trained animals -- well, I've thought he was off base before, but I've never found his conclusions offensive before.

I still think Gladwell is right more often than he's wrong, and in the space of 24 hours I hit both those extremes. I still can't give him an unqualified endorsement, and I'll have to wait until the full article he based his talk on to come out to see if it's still convincing, but I recommend you see him if you can. (Would be really nice if his website, his speaker bureau or his publisher's site would provide a list of those opportunities. Time to work on my think-piece about blogging and the failure of the last mile!)

Gay Talese Has Colored Ink

And this is his outline for the famous magazine piece, "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold," as shared by the Paris Review which also has a neat (though not new) interview with him up. His collected pieces in PORTRAITS AND ENCOUNTERS seem familiar only because he created those longer magazine forms journalists are still using. Super-sweet. (Via Kung Fu Grippe.)

21 October 2009

Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me

Ooh, we discovered a new Shakespeare play! ...Oh, it's a history play and a collaboration of which he likely wrote less than half.

Federico García Lorca is still dead

The BBC reports that a team of Spanish professors at the University of Granada will be allowed next week to excavate the site where poet and playwright Federico García Lorca is believed to have been buried. Working with the Association of the Recuperation of Historic Memory, which only sounds Orwellian, the team is armed with DNA samples from Lorca's surviving relatives to try and identify the remains of the writer, who was executed near his birthplace by Fascist guards in August 1936.

Often when authors die I find myself writing here, "I know how well known and respected he or she was, although I'm not familiar enough with the work to offer a proper eulogy." Lorca would be an exception to that. I was introduced to Lorca's work in high school -- his play "The House of Bernarda Alba," about five sisters stifled by their mother's rule, is standard Spanish-class stuff -- and eventually worked my way through all his work and two biographies (recommend LORCA, A DREAM OF LIFE over the Ian Gibson). Studying the facts of his life allows students to slot him tidily into a timeline of Spanish literature; he was well known as a member of the artistic movement the "Generation of '27" at the time of his death, which bridges the gap between literature before and after Franco assumed power (at which point most of his works were banned for years).

At the time I studied him Lorca had been dead for over 60 years, but I can't think of another author whose death affected me as profoundly. I was sadder about the death of a 38-year-old Spanish man, to whom I had no ties other than a stack of books and a feeling, than at my own great-grandmother's funeral. I felt a ripple of this sentiment earlier this year, as was perhaps inevitable, amid INFINITE JEST with the reminder that its author would not complete another novel, that next year we'll be toting our copies of THE PALE KING and trying to convince ourselves it's almost as good. It's not as good. It will never be as good. Like Lorca, David Foster Wallace had years of work ahead of him, work we will never see and cannot imagine. Does knowing the little we do know about the circumstances of Wallace's death make it any easier to take? Not really.

I'll be following the dig in Granada, and I hope they will find out what happened, but even giving his remains a proper burial won't erase the legacy of the army that took him to the outskirts of town. This was a regime that had so little respect for human life that it allowed thousands of its own men to die in the mountains building a monstrous tomb meant to memorialize the war dead. Spilling blood for the spilled blood. And how many of those men didn't leave a poem or a play behind to be remembered by? And how many of their names have been forgotten, snapped off family trees in a conflict that was really just the rehearsal dinner to the world's 1940s gore wedding? And how many, how many in the mass graves now?

20 October 2009

Barnes and Noble Has Its Own E-Reader Now

It looks like a Kindle with a touch screen, it runs on Android and Wired thinks you'll be able to lend e-books to friends with the same device. But it's $259 and it's called... the Nook. Really? They took the '80s-computer palette of the Kindle and not the catchy name? It's as if they figured out I'm not their target market or something.

Area Boyfriend Pronounces New Reading Series "Genius Idea"

Making the rounds on Twitter yesterday: A Chicago-based burlesque dancer started an event called "Naked Girls Reading" which is in the process of expanding to other cities including a performance of "A Christmas Carol" in New York in December. From the NSFW website:
"There’s something beautiful, something altogether more intimate, about a woman reading pretty much anything in her, well, altogether. It’s just that simple. So why are we still talking about it? Because people can’t seem to accept its simplicity."
This bodes well for the troupe's future shows, "Naked Girls Brushing Their Teeth," "Naked Girls Looking In The Refrigerator" and "Naked Girls Shopping On Etsy."

19 October 2009

David Bowie American Library Association Poster

From his forgotten "I'm Playing a Soc In Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Outsiders'" phase... The ALA blog found this poster in a 1989 catalog but it had been around for at least two years by then. Anyone have an educated guess as to what he's reading?

Modern celebrities who have posed for READ posters include Keira Knightley with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Tim Gunn with THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, Jeffrey Dean Morgan with WATCHMEN and Shaquille O'Neal looking Photoshopped into his chair.

Found on fyeahreading.

National Novel Writing Month Begins Soon

The Bad Idea Bears want to remind you to sign up for NaNoWriMo now, with keyboards at the ready for November 1st.

Every year I am irresistibly tempted to do this again despite the 800 reasons why it is a Bad Idea. But if you want to do it, you should! It can be great fun. It could be, in fact, your best bad idea ever. Then again, you might be more tempted by National Blog Posting Month, which goes on all year but hits its daily-blogging height in November.

18 October 2009

How D.H. Lawrence invented the bromance

It was always the same between them; always their talk brought them into a deadly nearness of contact, a strange, perilous intimacy which was either hate or love, or both. They parted with apparent unconcern, as if their going apart were a trivial occurrence. And they really kept it to the level of trivial occurrence. Yet the heart of each burned from the other. They burned with each other, inwardly. This they would never admit. They intended to keep their relationship a casual free-and-easy friendship, they were not going to be so unmanly and unnatural as to allow any heart-burning between them. They had not the faintest belief in deep relationship between men and men, and their disbelief prevented any development of their powerful but suppressed friendliness.
--WOMEN IN LOVE. This post is dedicated to my friend DRA who hates the b-word.

17 October 2009

Ruben Toledo's Penguin Classics covers

Eerie, but amazing -- and I didn't even like this book! The illustrator did three in all for Penguin, including PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (which drawing I'm lukewarm on) and this one:

16 October 2009

Skip this one if you're queasy

Last night I went to see "God of Carnage" on Broadway, a vicious but grand piece of work about two couples who meet to discuss a a fight their offstage sons have had. There's a scene near the beginning where (spoiler, naturally) Hope Davis' character, having commented on Marcia Gay Harden's collection of coffee-table art books, very suddenly -- and realistically -- vomits all over them and the table they sit on. As soon as Davis and her husband (Jeff Daniels) have gone to the bathroom Harden turns to James Gandolfini and says in high dudgeon, "I can't believe she puked on my books!"

Davis' performance is the best part of the play, and not just because I have no idea how they pulled that off. But if there is such an incident of destruction in my past, I have certainly blocked it out. What's the worst thing you've ever done to a book?

15 October 2009

Not lonely in the City of Light

There's a lot to dream about in this past weekend's New York Times travel piece on Edith Wharton in Paris, a city she fled to amid the wreckage of her marriage, conducted an affair in using tourism as her cover (smart!) and outside of which she is now buried. It does, however, spoil the end of THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, so consider yourself warned.

I finished the NYRB collection of Edith Wharton's New York stories a few weeks ago, and though all but its ultimate story (the excellent "Roman Fever") take place on this side of the Atlantic, having read it sheds a lot of light on why Wharton, who was born in New York, would want to separate herself from the social whirl. I had to return it to the library before I had a chance to write about it, but I'm thinking of one story in particular in which a woman who was forced to leave for Europe during a nasty divorce returns to New York for her daughter's second wedding. The stigma over ending a marriage has been erased in a generation, but nevertheless she chooses the Continent, where she can live without scrutiny. With a little sadness, but not much, she orders her trunks be packed.

Wharton's visits must have been tremendously circumscribed even with the relative freedom she found there, but she had the wherewithal to choose, and she chose Paris. Times writer Elaine Sciolino describes her eating dinner with her lover in neighborhoods which for her stood for “the end of the earth ... where there is bad food & no chance of meeting acquaintances.” The balls and ritual leaving of calling cards look like a lark to us, but conceal that these women were almost never alone upon reaching adulthood. (This is the primary weakness of Anna Godbersen's Gilded Age YA series THE LUXE, the mechanics of whose plots require that its teenage characters manage to slip away from everyone to accomplish their goals.) True, attachment parenting hadn't been invented yet, but the hours they didn't spend with their kids were filled with parlor visits and servant directions. Letter-writing and the last months of pregnancy were probably their only respite from having to perform socially; in Europe, there were fewer people to visit.

'Tis the season to travel through books when you can't get away otherwise. (Anyone know of a good book set in Washington state?) This post should also remind me that I own Hermione Lee's Wharton biography, mentioned in the article, and haven't read it yet; maybe in a few months.

He's not gay, he's just sparkly

In some ways it's the logical extension of Caitlin Flanagan's vampire-as-abstinence-metaphor Atlantic article, but Stephen Marche really takes it a step further in Esquire by claiming that the popularity of TWILIGHT is based on teenage female fantasies of dating gay men -- and that that's a good thing.

14 October 2009

Your 2009 National Book Award Nominees Are...

I am 0 for 10 this year. Ouch! But I'm making predictions anyway.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, AMERICAN SALVAGE (Wayne State University Press)
Colum McCann, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN (Random House)
Daniyal Mueenuddin, IN OTHER ROOMS, OTHER WONDERS (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Jayne Anne Phillips, LARK AND TERMITE (Alfred A. Knopf)
Marcel Theroux, FAR NORTH (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Uninformed prediction: Last year I based my pick on whether I had heard of the books before, and that turned out to be completely wrong. But I've heard about two of these books a lot and two not at all, so I'm going for the one in the middle, LARK AND TERMITE. Hey, I didn't say this was scientific or accurate. ETA: I should have picked AMERICAN SALVAGE because Campbell may have the best author bio page ever.

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Uninformed prediction: I have a good feeling about REMARKABLE CREATURES because it's the Darwin bicentennial year. Runner up: FORDLANDIA.

Head over to their site for poetry and YA.

Scene from a library queue, update

Related to this post from last week, I am now in possession of OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS, KAFKA ON THE SHORE and (at left) GLOVER'S MISTAKE.

Funny thing about my copy of GLOVER'S, it has a red sticker with the abbreviation "B&T" on its spine. Surely the New York Public Library would not have an official use for the city slang for people outside Manhattan? Oh, but they do -- my copy is from a Staten Island library. (Not sure if they also do this for the Bronx.)

The turning gears of a public utility shall now be allowed to continue undocumented.

13 October 2009

The most important book ever comes out today

I am extra-super excited about the A.V. Club's INVENTORY collection given my obsession with lists and my massive conflict of interest.

Running second to the most important book ever: Eoin Colfer's AND ANOTHER THING... is the first authorized sequel to Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series about reluctant space traveler Arthur Dent (and a lot of other stuff). The last volume Adams published was MOSTLY HARMLESS in 1992; he died in 2001. Colfer is best known as the author of the ARTEMIS FOWL series, which may mean more to you than it does to me, but describes himself as a huge Douglas Adams fan. So we'll see.

12 October 2009

What's Nina Sankovitch's secret?

How does a woman find time to read a book every day? Raise your hand if you know!

I'm not shaming the project -- I'm jealous, of course -- but the reporting dodge sort of undermines the point of the piece, doesn't it? I'm tempted to launch into it, but it's a holiday, so.

(Thanks to Pearl for sending this to me.)

Breaking: More people reading Hebrew than Dan Brown*

Saw a woman reading THE LOST SYMBOL on the subway yesterday. I'm surprised it took me almost a month to spot one, though my sample is both small and non-indicative of the hardcover-buying population (and I'm not the most attentive rider in the world). She was past the 400-page mark and looked bored.

*I see a fair amount of young men reading in Hebrew on the subway -- again, not because the language is demonstrably taking off, but because I live downstream from a Jewish university. Other popular categories on my commute include back issues of the
New Yorker and self-help in Spanish.

11 October 2009

I lost a sort of confidence, it took me a long time to get back to it. I would start a book and not finish it, something was missing. Now I know exactly what it was: I was not attacking the work. I was tentative. I lost my belief that I actually could be a writer. I started to become apologetic, even to myself. Terrible thing. It doesn't make it to the realm of tragedy, but it's a terrible thing for a writer to become apologetic to him or herself. It's one thing to be apologetic to others just to get rid of a question. On the other hand, I never pursued another occupation that could have replaced writing, as if I were afraid to take on a real career, because it would have been death to me as a writer and I didn't want that to happen. I created a tough period for myself and crawled my way back to respectability.
--This Bookslut interview with Michael Greenberg really makes me interested in his book BEG, BORROW, STEAL. Sounds like HAND TO MOUTH, only not whiny!

10 October 2009

Mullets and Robert Goulet

In honor of Sarah Palin's forthcoming book, Joel Stein sat down with ghostwriter Neil Strauss (also the author of THE GAME, but let's not get into that) to write his autobiography in a day. You can even download the fruits of Strauss' labors, which are arguably more interesting than the column that resulted from it.

With the help of ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, Sarah Palin turned in her book in just four months. This statistic is meaningless. ETA: TIME's accompanying article about celebrity ghostwriters makes me feel stupid for believing Hillary Clinton actually wrote IT TAKES A VILLAGE.

09 October 2009

Post-Its: Smiling while reading aloud edition

Endearing if done right; more than a little creepy if done wrong.

Widener is still overrated: Harvard just dropped an unspecified amount of money on John Updike's personal papers, including letters, review copies with his notes in them and golf score cards(1). The author, who graduated 1954 but according to the Globe only set one short story at his alma mater, used Widener Library to research several of his books including 2006's TERRORIST. Well, to each his own. (Boston Globe)

In other news, water wet, sky blue: As in pretty much every sector save H1N1 vaccines, consumer spending on books is down right now, because Dan Brown failed to save the publishing industry he was previously accused of killing. Burn him! (NY Times)

This game is a metaphor for the decline of contemporary culture: Can you tell Dustin "Screech" Diamond's memoir BEHIND THE BELL from Ernest Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS(2)? (The Daily Beast)

Still two months left to be good: One of the items in the legendary/scary Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog is a $200,000 "Algonquin round table experience," in which you get a scintillating dinner party with writers(3) like Christopher Buckley, Adam Gopnik and Malcolm Gladwell. On the bright side, the proceeds from this ridiculous expenditure(4) will be donated to a great charity called First Book. (Via WSJ)

Believe the hype: This may just be ancestral pride shining through but I am super excited that a Swedish (5) adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO will hit theatres here next year. It had looked for a while that an American company was going to buy it only to remake it, and that was worrying. (Variety)

(2) In an earlier version of this post it read FROM WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. It tolls from thee! Ernest, turn off thy ringtone!
(3) The catalog guarantees eight authors will be there, as if the experience weren't commodified enough already.
(4) Insider tip: You can have dessert in the Round Table Room at the Algonquin any day for way, way, way, way less than this, although it's exorbitant when compared to a normal restaurant. Get the tiramisu.
(5) I have heard your blonde joke, and it sucks.

08 October 2009

And your Nobel Prize winner in Literature is...

Not Philip Roth! Meet Herta Müller, a Romanian who writes in German about dictatorial oppression. One of her books is currently in print in English translation, THE LAND OF GREEN PLUMS, about a group of friends pulled apart during Ceausescu's regime. (That's out of the Publishers Weekly review; I have not read this book, nor have I ever heard of Müller before now, I confess.)

Müller emigrated to Germany in 1987, but believes that when she goes back to Romania she is still under surveillance.

Not under the influence of Blanketrol

I expected GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC from its noir opening to get so far away from the case at hand that I would no longer care about who killed who when the pieces were put together -- and I was right. At one point antihero P.I. Conrad Metcalf leaves a really, really weird bar to go track down a lead related to the murder of urologist Maynard Stanhunt and I'm thinking, "No! Go back to the bar!" I started agreeing with the official investigators against whose wishes Metcalf continues his work that, well, dead was dead, might as well start some trouble.

But there's so much to latch onto here I didn't expect one casual detail to occupy my thinking. Metcalf works in a world where everyone earns or is docked "karma" points by the police (sort of like the whuffie system Cory Doctorow uses in DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM), hormones allow animals to live and work with humans and everyone snorts a combination of legally available drugs. All of these ideas could have been developed into full dystopias, but instead knock around against each other -- not so much world-building as world-piling.

Among the jumble is Metcalf casually mentioning his particular physical defect which (to write around it) is related to that classic of the archetype, the disdain for the dame. It stuck with me so far that I wanted to be reading that book; it was the supporting character whose 10 minutes in the movie were the best 10 minutes, and why wasn't I watching that movie? Well, because that movie didn't get made. Thus, the power of the author.

Whether you like GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC or not will depend on your tolerance for such frustration. Despite the everything-and-the-kitchen-sinkness and the absence of any real plot-based tension beyond the first 50 pages, I sped through it, although the last few chapters deliver another twist that I wanted to see spun out at length but knew wouldn't get nearly that much attention. I know, I should have gone for Chandler if I wanted the resolution to matter, but Chandler doesn't write for talking kangaroos. (Kangaroo : Lethem :: bear : Irving?)

07 October 2009

My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs and the floor, and Chaz observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will. You just never know. One day I may -- need is the word I use -- to read FINNEGANS WAKE, the Icelandic sagas, Churchill's history of the Second World War, the complete TINTIN in French, 47 novels by Simenon, and BY LOVE POSSESSED. That 1957 best-seller by James Could Cozzens was eviscerated in a famous essay by Dwight Macdonald, who read all the way through that year's list of fiction best sellers and surfaced with a scowl. It and the other books on the list have been rendered obsolete, so that his essay is cruelly dated. But I remember reading the novel late, late into the night when I was 14, stirring restlessly with the desire to be by love possessed.
--Raise your hand if you want to go visit Roger Ebert's personal library now. As usual, he really gets at the heart of the issue.

Byatt and Coetzee are still drunk right now

Which if you think about the time change is quite the bender. (Also, probably a fiction.) But anyway, Hilary Mantel won the Booker Prize last night (and $80,000) for her novel about Thomas Cromwell, WOLF HALL. She was heavily favored to win in the betting.

WOLF HALL hits stores in the U.S. next Tuesday, October 13th.

06 October 2009

Stream Frank McCourt's Memorial Service Today At 5PM

Can't be in New York to remember the ANGELA'S ASHES author? Click over to Symphony Space's website to watch the service live courtesy of Scribner. If you are here, you have 15 minutes to trot over to 2537 Broadway and get in line for "some" tickets available to the public.

Scene from a library queue

As of this morning:

Note: There is debate whether the above proves that the library hates geeks or nerds, and having been subjected to several other pilots in the past few weeks, I can confidently say that "Eastwick" was not the worst.

05 October 2009

See, someone stuck a wad of cash in the series of tubes...

Great news! The FTC's new rule for blogger disclosure -- that bloggers have to disclose items they get to review, or payments they get for writing those reviews -- won't go into effect until December 1st. Until then I will not get out of bed to blog for less than $10,000 or a SmartCar. From the statement:
The post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
An endorsement! It's like I'm a professional athlete, or a special-interest group!

Free book graft is probably one of the least glamorous activities this policy is trying to target. I also write for a travel site and this kind of disclosure is a very big deal when you are talking about press trips that are both compromising and to some degree necessary, particularly for outlets with smaller budgets. I can't wait to see how nightly news anchors will explain a potential crackdown on bloggers to audiences who may not realize there's gold in them thar Internets. Remember all those "I Became A Millionaire Through Second Life" stories? The money is in the computer!
Merlin Mann has a book coming out next year on productivity and e-mail, so I assume that's when the revolution is happening.

04 October 2009

We have always been at war with the Eurasian squirrel

A couple months ago there was a kerfuffle over Amazon deleting purchased e-books from users' Kindles without asking, which I mostly ignored because I thought the company could have had a reason to withdraw them and it didn't seem like a big deal. Also, the detail everyone latched onto was that one of the books removed was George Orwell's 1984, which seemed too perfect a comparison. Well, at least one person is learning what Big Brother can do for you: Via Shelf Life, a high school student settled with Amazon for $150,000 for deleting his copy of 1984, because he was using it for summer reading and his notes were completely useless without it.

Frankly, I took way too many notes in my high school books thus rendering them impossible to re-read without getting sidetracked. (Except my copy of THE ODYSSEY, which I was determined to keep nice for some reason, so settled for taking all my notes on Post-Its and sticking them in the book. Useless and wasteful!) But is this not a clear victory not for the summer-reading note-taker, but for dead-tree media in general? You make your notes, and they stay put!

Besides falling down in the note-taking department, the Kindle is also an inferior weapon, or so I would think. I was reading in Madison Square Park yesterday when one of its aggressive squirrels climbed up on a bench yesterday, crawling up to within a foot of where I was sitting. I could have petted it, if I were insane. I waved my hand at it, but it didn't flinch; I spoke loudly to it, something like, "Do you mind? I don't have any food for you!" to no avail. (Later, discovering a forgotten sample bag of chips in my bag, I was impressed that the squirrel could sniff it out from its scarf-pen-and-notebook sandwich.)

Then I looked up and saw a woman was taking pictures of me waving and cursing at it from another bench. I tried to catch her eye in one of those "Oh, the indignity of urban life" looks, hoping she wasn't filling out her vacation album. She lost interest before the squirrel did, but it eventually jogged off. But my point is, if I had had to brain the squirrel, which I stress I did not do, I'd rather sacrifice a paperback than a $299 toy. In either case, thwonking the tourists who feed the squirrels might get better results.

Scenes from a library queue

This probably won't be of interest to any of you all, but I'm putting it up as a sort of artifact anyway:

1. Missing from this list is ORYX AND CRAKE, which I wanted to read before YEAR OF THE FLOOD.
2. I was reading a paper I wrote on EL DESORDEN DE TU NOMBRE (THE DISORDER OF YOUR NAME) and nothing about the book jogged my memory. Reading begets re-reading, or fear of loss of long-term memory?
3. Clarice Lispector's book wasn't actually reviewed in the Times; it was a review of a biography of her that piqued my interest.
4. "Know" is a strong word; he's actually my editor at a certain publishing trade magazine. No, he didn't ask or force me to read his book, and yes, this means I probably won't blog about it either way.
5. Apparently living in NYC and owning a full set of SANDMAN is mutually exclusive. I've been meaning to do this for a while, so I guess I can wait a little longer.
6. Through machinations too complicated to be explained here, I was exposed to the new television adaptation "Eastwick," which... well... half a thumb up for Rebecca Romijn and Lindsay Price who turn on the charm despite being ridiculously miscast. Anyway, I was talking about the premise with a coworker and thought I should give Updike the benefit of the doubt that he wrote a better book than ABC could make a show.
7. On the first recommendation I already sat up and took notice, but the second time this book was recommended to me inside of a month I started seriously scrounging around for a copy.
8. I usually have one blockbuster rotting away in my queue at all times -- you can't see it, but I'm 241st of 246 holds. Good thing I'm in no hurry.

03 October 2009

September Unbookening is always plotting something

Got 3 to review
Got 2, otherwise
Checked out 6
Bought 12
23 in

Gave away 4
Donated 13
Returned 12 to the library
Returned 1 to a friend
30 out

I had bought a bunch of books even before the Housing Works sale, where I made out like a bandit. In my defense, some of those were gifts, and I was afraid of what that $1 copy of IN COLD BLOOD would do if I didn't take it home.

Since you stopped paying attention two sentences ago, updates on other posts in September:
  • The experts I cited in my post about high school reading started college classes two weeks ago. Seems like just yesterday they were in the hospital wearing those stupid newborn hats! They're class of 2013, which should make the rest of you feel as old as I do.
  • Garrison Keillor did get well enough to do a book signing in New York, which I promptly missed, but that's still good news.
  • PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is currently the best-selling book on college campuses, with TWILIGHT down at ninth place. Well done, youth of America.
Unrelated but awesome photo: sundry

02 October 2009

Bloggers ruin everything, again.

This week in the death of publishing: Columbia University has indefinitely suspended its book review seminar. And whose fault is that? Well, newspapers', but also: mine!
"[Prof. James Shapiro] added that because so many reviewers are now blogging, freelancers are having a harder time than ever earning anything substantial from their work."
My bad! Clearly I only did it for revenge because I would have loved to take this kind of class had it been offered at my school while I was there. Also, to take one of the authors he mentioned, I'm fairly sure that if Joyce Carol Oates were coming of age now she would have a massive blog, the kind you have to read on weekends with several rounds of coffee and the font plussed up. (Not this kind.) In fact, has anyone thought of getting JCO another platform for her cacoethes scribendi to assume marvelous shape? I kid, but I would read the hell out of that.
If there's one thing I've learned in my life, it's that curiosity might kill cats, but it doesn't kill people. Unless you're curious about doing things like bungee jumping high on crack to see if you really need that harness, curiosity will not kill you! I tell you what will kill you—people will. We've got a long way to go to change that around, but I hope we do. For now, I can say this and I know it's true: Curiosity makes you smarter. Don't fight it! Learn to learn, learn to ask questions. Clearly, you've got questions about me. In this book you'll find some answers.
--From Tracy Morgan's autobiography I AM THE NEW BLACK, out October 20. See you on the dollar cart in six months, you beautiful object.

01 October 2009

In any case, there's a propeller beanie involved.

Simon & Schuster announced yesterday that they are offering four of their titles as video-studded e-books you can download to your computer or buy as an app in iTunes. The first line of this boundary-crossing technology includes a fitness title (sort of a no-brainer for visual content) and a romance novella in salute to the genre readers who have cottoned onto e-books in disproportionate numbers.

The name they have come up with for this digital innovation is "vook." Really? That was the best option? It sounds like an SNL parody ad from the '90s featuring Adam Sandler as a kid who looks like he's reading in class but is actually watching a tiny television in his textbook. Or a creature one meets on the highway in the DRAGONLANCE series. Or a supernatural occurrence captured on audio. Or a racial slur. I think they should have run that one through a few more focus groups, but if anyone has bought one, how do you like it so far?

Best National Book Award Ever? You decide.

The National Book Foundation is taking votes on which National Book Award winner in fiction is superior over its 60-year history. By asking "140 writers across the country" (none of which were me, was it you?) they have drawn up a slate of six finalists, only one of which is still alive. Will Thomas Pynchon come out of obscurity if he wins?

Vote in the poll and you could win tickets to the awards in New York in November. You also get to see who has the most rabid fanbase! The battle could get heated.