31 March 2009

Talk of the Town will air next week, not this week


This is not an April Fool's joke. My next Talk of the Town segment on Zoe Heller's THE BELIEVERS will air not tomorrow, as previously reported, but April 8. Do not adjust your radios -- but do think about picking up the book. Will I recommend it? Only time will tell.

"Talk of the Town" airs 7PM EDT (4PM PDT, 1PM Anna Time) on WEBR (and available through your TV) for D.C./Virginia/ Maryland locals
Everyone else: Tune in here!
If you've read THE BELIEVERS and want to air your grievances live on "Talk of the Town," don't forget you can call in to the show live at (571) 334-9189.

British cover of THE BELIEVERS (love!): fantasticfiction.co.uk

28 March 2009

Pursuant to this post from earlier this month, I am proud to say that I am now a member of the National Book Critics Circle. My secret decoder ring is so awesome.

27 March 2009

And I helped!

It used to be in the good old days of the Amazon bestsellers list that there was only one man to beat -- and he wasn't even out of school yet. I speak of course of Harry Potter, now only selling oodles of copies instead of millions. Now there's a new guy in town, and since he's undead, Edward Cullen can just wait until you die and still sell way more books than you. (Is it the glitter or the creepy possessiveness?)

Naturally, the new game is beating TWILIGHT, something first-time author Ramit Sethi bragged about (and rightfully so) when his personal finance book I WILL TEACH YOU TO BE RICH captured the #1 spot. The screenshot makes it official:


The book has since slipped down to #20 (as of 7:48AM today), but still, not shabby. I will cop to assisting in this effort and have since read the book; I'm no expert in the field but if you're looking for very clearly defined "homework" to do to get your money in order, I haven't read one better.

26 March 2009

Reading on the Road: My Vacation in Books

Days I was away: 10.
Books I packed: 10.
Of those, books stowed specifically so that I would have something to read on the trip back: 2.
Books left in airports or on airplanes: 3.
Books fallen into the ocean or smaller bodies of water: 0, impressively.

Days before departure my mom called me to figure out what books to bring so that neither of us would have read anything the other had: 16.
Titles she mentioned which I had already read: 3. (Disasters averted: 1?)
Books I ended up borrowing from her: 7.
Books I borrowed from my brother: 0, but it was nice of him to offer.

Percentage of books I brought that were nonfiction: 0.
Percentage of books my mom brought that were nonfiction: 22.2.
Percentage of books my brother brought that were nonfiction: 75. (Being HOW WE DECIDE, THE ASSASSINATION BUSINESS and the recent Michael Lewis book PANIC!)

Books my mom read on the trip: 10, I think.
Books my dad read on his Kindle on the trip: 1.59 at last count (he's still on vacation)
Times I made fun of him for the day he couldn't take his Kindle to the beach because it was out of battery power and was forced to settle for, oh no, a magazine: 1,000,000,000.

Book most commonly spotted being read by members of our trip: Leif Enger's PEACE LIKE A RIVER, and yes, there is a logical explanation for that.

Books I returned home with: 5.
Of those, books that were originally mine: 3.
Books I bought on the trip: 0.
Books waiting for me in various packages when I finally got around to sorting out my mail, which was quite recently considering how much I love mail: 10.

Books I read on the trip: 14, being:
Louise Kean, THE PERFECT 10
Lawrence Block, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES
Martha Moody, BEST FRIENDS
Francesca Delbanco, ASK ME ANYTHING
Robin Gerber, ELEANOR VS. IKE
Steven Gregory, THE DEVIL IN THE MIRROR
Sheri Holman, THE MAMMOTH CHEESE
Alison Lurie, FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Azadeh Moaveni, LIPSTICK JIHAD
Marian Keyes, WATERMELON
Advaita Kala, ALMOST SINGLE
Janet Evanovich, PLUM LUCKY
Mary Kay Andrews, HISSY FIT
John Grisham, THE APPEAL

25 March 2009

Filmbook: "To Kill A Mockingbird" (1962)

Ready for the most obvious Filmbook entry ever?

You must see this movie. I have no idea how I was made to study TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and yet never watched this one. How did I grow up as a girl and not ever see and admire the fearless Scout Finch?

I liked the book, but I really liked this movie. I think as far as performances, filming, building suspense, it gets everything right -- including, as you know if you've read the book, saving the biggest surprise for the last 10 minutes. Gregory Peck is pitch perfect and I was shocked to get chills in the scene where he leaves the courtroom -- chills -- from a story I already knew and had seen dramatized onstage once upon a time.

In an odd way, this movie makes me feel grateful that it was made when it was, so much closer to that time, so that I could watch it and feel like we humans have at least made a little progress in how we relate to each other. (Would that make this movie the anti-"Crash"? Discuss.) I think it will still hold up in 50 years; I guess we'll have to see.

Filmbook verdict: Well, what do you think? I think this movie could stand alone for people who had never read the book, which usually isn't the case, but I'm not sure I'd want to tell people not to read Harper Lee's original. Would love to know your opinions or arguments on either side.

24 March 2009

"The quotes in this book are awesome!"

In Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address, he described as one of the essential attributes of a good government "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none." While I have never expressed it so elegantly, I like to think this statement could describe my relationship on this blog with the books I write about. It suits me to try and remain independent even if no one is making me.

That said, today's feature is the rare book I do have a personal stake in; I'm not going to review it per se, but here's why I will be checking it out. Buckle in, it's story time!

When I first moved to New York City I didn't have a full-time job, so I made rent doing a lot of different . Nothing glamorous or, alternately, illegal; mostly filling in for vacationing secretaries and taking angry phone calls, that sort of drill. I once abandoned a job after I saw a woman throw a stapler at a wall hard enough to leave a divot, but hey, it's not like she threw it at me!

Anyway, one of the random jobs I was holding was transcribing interviews for a guy who was writing a book. I am a very slow transcriber, but the material was interesting and it was cool to see how he conducted his interviews for the book. So I did that for several months, and then the work dried up and I kind of forgot about it... until I read a review of it in Publishers Weekly.

Let me be clear, I am in no way responsible for the finished product, BUT WAIT... THERE'S MORE! TIGHTEN YOUR ABS, MAKE MILLIONS, AND LEARN HOW THE $100 BILLION INFOMERCIAL INDUSTRY SOLD US EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK. Still, I'm excited to see how the book which was described to me in concept over two years ago turned out. It hits stores today -- check it out if you think you might be interested.

23 March 2009

Don't try this at home!

Sam Macdonald's THE URBAN HERMIT is one of the more offbeat memoirs I have read recently. Facing a ton of debt, an addiction to the bar around the corner and a very unhealthy lifestyle, Macdonald hit upon the kind of solution that always looks good on paper: He'll limit himself to an 800-calorie-a-day diet (mostly lentils and cheap canned tuna), stop drinking cold turkey and use the resultant savings to clean up his life. As they say on "Sesame Street," it's so crazy it just might work.

Of course, along the way in his draconian diet Macdonald discovered a career, made new friends and met his future wife, which, according to the last chapter of his book is what THE URBAN HERMIT is all about. I can't remember the last time I read a book which had a built-in disclaimer in the last chapter, but in it, Macdonald quotes from various weight-loss memoirs (if I remember correctly, all by women) and stresses that his story is not about weight loss, it was about changing his life, man. Why do you have to put so many labels on it? And, as he stresses at many points in the book, an 800-calorie diet should not be attempted by someone not under medical supervision.

On the other hand, Macdonald did lose 160 pounds on the Urban Hermit plan or life strategy or what have you. And one of the things I liked about it was how insane he got in the pursuit of his goal, and that he actually (spoiler!) achieved it and managed to get back on track. But the auto-disparagement was kind of off-putting, as is the intimation that most people who write about losing a huge amount of weight do so without major implications to their lives. (See I'M NOT THE NEW ME or HALF-ASSED: A WEIGHT LOSS MEMOIR for examples.)

21 March 2009

38. E.M. Forster, HOWARDS END

"Only connecting" is not as easy as it looks. The Schegel children, particularly daughters Margaret and Helen, exercise a curiosity about other people's lives which their acquaintances the Wilcoxes (slightly richer) find improper and their friend Leonard (poorer) finds unnecessary. The Schegels, about to be wandering in the wilderness as their house was sold to a developer, are looking for a home; Leonard is looking for a living, and the Wilcoxes, at least outwardly, seem quite satisfied with their lot.

This book kind of snuck up on me. It's about class, but at first I saw the conflicts between the Wilsons and the Schegels as mostly a question of upbringing. (I could chalk this up to being American, but I think I just wasn't reading between the lines enough.) Maybe it's because the homage ON BEAUTY, being set in America in this century, characterizes the differences more in culture and political beliefs than class.

Anyway, it felt like I almost finished with it before anything happened that could be called plot, and then right at the end, something happens which crystallizes everything that came before. I realized I was waiting for some kind of bold stroke but this book is very subtle. I can see why Zadie Smith was inspired by it to write ON BEAUTY. I think I liked it slightly more than A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN in the end, after I got my head out of the Forster-cloud.

LN vs. ML progress: 49 read, 51 unread.

Next up: Well... I was thinking either OF HUMAN BONDAGE or WOMEN IN LOVE, which are both available on Dailylit. Have any of you read either one? I have read no Maugham and only a little Lawrence.

20 March 2009

And that's not all she wrote

Alexandra Jacobs begins her New York Times review of the new anthology MY LITTLE RED BOOK by asking whether there are too many nonfiction anthologies already, specifically of the type aimed at women.
Ever since the success of “The Bitch in the House,” a 2002 anthology of personal musings by frustrated upper-middle-class wives, editors have enthusiastically hacked the layer cake of modern female experience into narrower and narrower slices. Have you fretted about money? Suffered through a painful break-up? Had a close gay male pal? There’s an anthology for you, sister girlfriend.
I have not read THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE, nor will I probably seek out MY LITTLE RED BOOK unless enthusiastically recommended by someone I know. And I think the idea that there are too many anthologies is kind of pointless, because as long as they sell, there will be more. If this is just a publishing fad, then why are we bickering about it?

The trouble with anthologies is that even when you hit an essay that makes an incredibly obvious point, labors over a metaphor that should never have existed or contains no more plot than its title winked at, you keep turning the pages anyway to see if the next one will be better. If you finish a collection and it hasn't wowed you, though, perhaps the editor is to blame.

That's the conclusion I came to, at least, after finishing another recently published anthology for which I had at least moderately high hopes. I learned about it after one of the stories contained was published in the Times' Modern Love column -- yes, I occasionally still read it, because I never learn -- and it was an essay that I can honestly say shocked me when I first read it. Unfortunately, only two of the other pieces in the collection, which touted its sauciness as a selling point, ever got close to that threshold for me. Most of them were aggressively boring, to the point where I don't even want to single out the most boring among them.

I still finished it, but I'm glad I didn't buy it. What I really need now is an anthology of anthologies which will find me the best anthologies out there, which would probably make Jacobs' head explode.

19 March 2009

What Did I Do Last Night?

Finally, a book for the discerning addict who truly needs an excuse for everything. Tom Sykes' memoir about his self-destructive years of drinking, smoking and drugs delights in recounting the nightmares of addiction without ever having to own up to his mistakes, except for the fact that he drank, smoked, and did drugs too much.

Sykes grew up a rebellious teen in London who fell into a job at a newspaper. Before he knew it, he was working at British GQ, well known as a crazy guy who occasionally got his work in on time. The cocaine helped him drink all night without blacking out, but sometimes it happened anyway; the pot let him unwind after a hard week of sneaking into the office late after another night out. He took those skills to the New York Post as a nightlife columnist, where after a brief flirtation with not drinking, he had even more reason to tipple. How else would he know where were the best places to go?

The author sustained a number of nasty injuries and nearly lost his long-suffering wife, who liked to drink but couldn't understand why her husband couldn't stop when he wanted to. But mostly Sykes gets off pretty easily in WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT? And when he does screw up, there's always an excuse, from work to the absence of his father when he was a teenager. I like addiction memoirs as much as the next girl, and I can't imagine how Sykes climbed out of his self-dug grave to become completely sober at last. But neither the rise nor the fall were particularly interesting.

18 March 2009

Filmbook: "Primary Colors" (1998)

To say I am late to the party to have read PRIMARY COLORS in 2009 is a massive understatement. I remember when the speculation about who was behind the thinly veiled satire of the inside of the Clinton campaign, complete with deeply unflattering portraits of the then-current President and First Lady. But my half-Democratic household never had a copy of the book, so I didn't read it.

PRIMARY COLORS the book, for someone who only knew who the major players were supposed to represent in the roman a clef, was a pleasant romp along a familiar arc (naive newbie gets caught up in larger cause, only to discover ugly side of man and face crisis of conscience). "Primary Colors" the film is an excuse for John Travolta to do his Bill Clinton impression for 140 minutes. Even as as a thinly veiled exposé, the book has some depth, but this movie is all surface; despite being largely faithful to the book, it conveys none of the excitement of the Presidential primary nor the dilemma of the main character.

Perhaps the latter can be chalked up to the charisma-free performance of Adrien Lester as Henry Burton, the naive newbie who gets caught up in the Stanton (Clinton) campaign. Henry is the book's narrator and while he's got a lot to learn, you see that he has some assets that would make the campaign want him for their side. Lester plays Henry by widening his eyes a lot and pulling faces. Travolta's Clinton is not great -- I much prefer Emma Thompson's sensitive yet tense take on Hillary Clinton, which makes her come out a lot better than the book's description of her. (Or is that because it's impossible not to love Thompson in anything?) Be sure to spot Allison Janney in a very small role near the beginning.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book if you haven't already and you think you might be into that sort of thing. Don't see the movie.

17 March 2009

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Announcing the next show!


After settling down for a long winter's nap, my segment on "Talk of the Town" with Parker Sunshine returns April 1 with a review of Zoë Heller's THE BELIEVERS. I'll see how far Heller's characters can take me before I have to put the book down. Kidding, but Heller's comments on "the point of fiction" will probably come up in our discussion, so stay tuned.

"Talk of the Town" airs 7PM EDT (4PM PDT, 1PM Anna Time) on WEBR (and available through your TV) for D.C./Virginia/ Maryland locals.
Everyone else: Tune in here!
If you've read THE BELIEVERS and want to air your grievances live on "Talk of the Town," don't forget you can call in to the show live at (571) 334-9189.

16 March 2009

Sweet escape, sweet escape


I am not really writing this blog post to you. I know what you're thinking -- so what am I reading then? -- but while it may appear I am sitting at my computer writing this to you, I am really in a plane high over the Eastern Seaboard right now, headed somewhere where I'm pretty sure there won't be Internet.

Feel free to picture me in total withdrawal for the next ten days, but this blog will continue to be magically updated while I'm gone, thanks to my robot.* Naturally I won't be able to respond to any of your lovely comments, but I look forward to reading them when I come back. The good news is, I'll have had time to read 500** books to write about, instead of the same old.

*Wishful thinking.
**Rough estimate.

14 March 2009

Nose to the glass

As a twenty-something living in an expensive city, I have to laugh whenever I read articles about how now is a great time to buy property. Clearly there are deals to be had, but they are to be had for people who actually have money to spend in the first place. Long before the housing crisis, when I was signing the lease on my current place, my landlord pointed out a provision that would give me a discount should the building turn co-op; he didn't laugh when I asked if it was a 100 percent discount, because that's about the rate I could afford moving into Manhattan.

Steven Gaines' real-estate books THE SKY'S THE LIMIT and PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW might feel a little incongruent with the crisis-ridden housing market of ought-nine, but even during the downturn rich people do ridiculous things to find what they think of as a suitable place to live. And even when they've got their houses just the way they want them, they never seem to enjoy the fruits of their labor, either because of rotten luck (Donna Karan's battle to be able to renovate her apartment ended with the death of her husband from cancer) or their own restlessness.

Gaines doesn't just repeat rumor for his chapters on the gossip that drives the Manhattan and Hamptons housing markets; he gets the dirt directly from brokers, owners and notable residents, like Robert David Lion Gardiner, the curmudgeonly co-owner of a private island devoted to setting the record straight about his family's legacy. These aren't books I can see myself being tempted to re-read in the future, but as far as escapist nonfiction goes they suited me just fine.

13 March 2009

What was I supposed to do? They just showed up at the house.

Yesterday was my birthday, which I celebrated by writing nothing (over here anyway) and other festivities. I hadn't really planned on writing about the books I got, because I hadn't actually asked for that many and wasn't sure anyone would care, but my friend Henry was foolish enough to request it. So here's what I will very soon be enjoying in copies of my very own:
  • Susan Sontag, REBORN: JOURNALS AND NOTEBOOKS, 1947-1963. I'm not a Sontag expert but I took a class in undergrad on letters and diaries, and I still find these kinds of collections fascinating. I believe there was some controversy over her son's decision to publish these private papers as well, which is always an issue when a famous person dies without leaving specific instructions. A gift from my aunt Trish who checks in here once in a while -- thank you!!
  • T.J. English, HAVANA NOCTURNE: HOW THE MOB OWNED CUBA AND THEN LOST IT TO THE REVOLUTION. Books about Cuba and the Mob always draw me in; this has both.
  • Christopher Plummer, IN SPITE OF MYSELF: A MEMOIR. A few months ago over Christmas my whole family unexpectedly crammed into the den together to watch "The Sound of Music" on TV. It was one of the first movies my parents owned on VHS (two tapes!) and the Captain could take on Prince Eric for the title of my first movie crush. Oh, who am I kidding -- the Captain wins, Prince Eric is a milquetoast. Ironically, Plummer reportedly is embarrassed that he ever made "The Sound of Music." I hope he can defend himself.
  • Cari Beauchamp, JOSEPH P. KENNEDY PRESENTS: HIS HOLLYWOOD YEARS. Now here's a topic I know nothing about -- a speciality of the giver, my dad, who is also responsible for the previous two books. But I can't wait to find out about Old Hollywood and the Kennedy connection to it; I'm sure my Netflix queue will get a workout at the same time.

12 March 2009

11 March 2009

Filmbook: "Watchmen" (2009)

I think I would've gotten around to reading Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' alternate-history graphic novel eventually if it hadn't been made into a movie, but it's hard to be sure. Its greatness had been extolled to me, but maybe not enough for how engrossed I ended up being in WATCHMEN. Its density could be overwhelming but I got caught up in the lives of these should-have-beens, their seemingly pointless existence on the fringes of a society that doesn't really need them any more. The Watchmen are the anti-superheroes; they aren't even convinced of their own greatness, so how can they convey it to anyone else?

When I walked out of the theatre after a matinee of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" last weekend, I wasn't bowled over by the whole thing, nor was I disappointed. I went in envisioning a gory spectacle that would not be able to capture the complexity of Moore's original work, and I was right about that. (Actually, it was less gory than I had been dreading, even though every punch and smash is delivered at an unendurable volume.) I was surprised by how good the acting was, for the most part*; director Snyder gambled when he decided to cast non-marquee actors for all of his major parts, and it paid off with a nuance you don't normally see in a big-budget superhero movie.

A little further away from it now, I see the movie has one unbelievable hole in it, which I didn't notice because my mind filled it in for me in the theater. Like an optical illusion, where your brain convinces you to see something that isn't there, I failed to notice that, despite the much lauded opening credits, people who see this movie are never told how the Watchmen came to be (besides 30 seconds with Hollis) and why they can't be that way any more. Of course I already knew that going in, so the film could make sense for me without that missing piece, but I can't imagine how someone going in knowing nothing about the graphic novel would be able to make sense of what they were seeing. There just aren't enough clues, except maybe in Doctor Manhattan's case because we see his whole origin story (so to speak). Yet I have read reviews from people who hadn't read the graphic novel and still liked the movie, so maybe this isn't as big a problem as it seemed to be fore me.

There are several other things that didn't quite work for me about the movie, like how early the villain was telegraphed, but I must point out: The scene in the spaceship with the Leonard Cohen playing is probably the worst thing of its kind I have ever seen, or at least in the past 5 years. And the music is only a small part of that (most of the cues were obvious in a funny, kitschy way, like the Muzak at Adrian Veidt's office). Everything about that scene except the ship floating was ridiculous. I couldn't even laugh, I was too ashamed for everyone who apparently decided that this would be a moving way to connect these two characters. To paraphrase the immortal words of "Ghost World," it was so bad it went past good and back to bad again.

Filmbook verdict: Read the graphic novel (please!) and if you're going to see the movie, see it in IMAX.

*Exception being Malin Akerman, who I realize was probably cast to appeal to a different demographic than mine, but... goodness.

10 March 2009

Four Literary Accounts To Follow On Twitter

When not obsessively reorganizing my Goodreads to-read list, I can often be found idling on Twitter, chatting with friends and being entertained one 140-character update at a time. While I'm more likely to report on my apartment or plot nefarious deeds than talk about what I'm necessarily reading, sometimes I get into discussions of books -- why just today, my pal GollyGeeGidget mentioned that she could get seven of the eight ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series books for free for her Kindle, and how odd it was that the eighth one was not free.* If you tweet, here are four reading-related accounts you should follow:

TwitterLit
. Twice a day this account tweets the first lines of books and allows you to click through, if you like what you read, to find out what the book is. I can't think of any books offhand that I found and loved through the service, but if you like first lines in general, it's pretty neat.

DailyLitBigRead. The e-mail novel series DailyLit launched this account to try and get people on Twitter to all read the same book at the same time. They're on hiatus now after the first selection, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," but I'm sure they'll be back.

FLWBooks
. This offshoot of the new website Flashlight Worthy Books delights in lists -- like books set in New Jersey, books of "Mad Men" or "Books about Disney's Corporate Mishegoss." Yep, they actually use the word mishegoss. Now that's chutzpah. Anyway, I have a half-baked Flashlight Worthy list somewhere, but in the mean time you should check out theirs.

NickCarraway. Speaking of "Mad Men," last summer some fans of the show set up ranks of characters' Twitter accounts which sent messages, baited each other and responded to fans. After initially trying to shut them down, AMC allowed these fan-created accounts to live, and I hope if the Fitzgerald estate ever cottons on to this one -- really an irregular dispatch of quotes from THE GREAT GATSBY -- it will be left as a tribute to the great book in question.

*It wasn't the last one in the series, either; it was ANNE OF INGLESIDE, the 6th book. Go figure.

08 March 2009

Not afraid to be servicey: Library Lookup

Long ago I kept my to-read list on a hundred scraps of paper scattered around my room -- and on my Amazon wish list. I wasn't a major consumer in those halcyon days before I had to pay for things like rent and my own health insurance, but Amazon and I had some good times, like the time I ordered an SAT prep book and got a welding manual instead. (A commentary on my scores?)

Since I discovered Goodreads and, well, budgeting, my wish list has shrunk to be used as intended in the event of annual gift-giving occasions. But I still check out books on Amazon constantly, which is why I love this money-saving pro-library Library LookUp project. This has been around forever, but I finally spent the 15 or so seconds it took to add the link to my browser, and so far I'm delighted.

Once you install the bookmarklet, you can surf to the Amazon (or other bookstore) page of that book you just have to own, click the link and it will look the book up in your local library catalog using the ISBN. Temptation begone! Now if only they would mail the library books right to my apartment. (Kidding...)

07 March 2009

Down payment

Margaret Atwood was one of the first writers I discovered completely on my own -- without the help of a teacher or a parent or a books section. I read the back cover of a copy of CAT'S EYE and since then have worked my way through most of her other works. When I hear it's Atwood I will always give it a try.

That said, I had a hard time getting through her latest book PAYBACK: DEBT AND THE SHADOW SIDE OF WEALTH, and I'm not sure I can recommend it. Unlike most of Atwood's best known works, it's nonfiction -- a loose exploration of the concept of debt in history and literature, how it has been linked to sin and social obligation. She's particularly fascinated by the way a debt binds debtor and creditor -- that despite how people with large balances might see it, holding a large debt is not really a victimless crime. What we do to people who can't or won't pay their debts can't really make that connection go away.

This book is based on a series of lectures Atwood gave about debt, and maybe as a lecture her chosen themes cohere better than as written essays, because I didn't usually follow where Atwood was going, and when I did I didn't think it was worth the trip. I was reminded of a TA I once had who taught me that even in a short paper, there have to be transitions among ideas. Sometimes the leapfrogging just got out of hand. Other devices she uses, for example her practice of using childhood songs to illustrate a point, probably needed that in-person animation because they were lifeless on the page. The flourish of the last chapter, which purports to rewrite and modernize A CHRISTMAS CAROL, feels completely obvious and overwritten.

That said, the real reason I can't recommend PAYBACK is that there's nothing new presented here except maybe a few Emma Bovary jokes. Maybe I wouldn't expect that in different times, but I was disappointed.

06 March 2009

Whatever Zadie wants, Zadie gets

Here's what Zadie Smith is assigning to her class at Columbia University (via the New Yorker blog Emdashes). I must really have my head in the sand -- I had no idea she was teaching a course in my own backyard! My new mission is to spot her in the bagel line at Nussbaum & Wu or buying Pull'n'Peels at the Duane Reade.

I've been thinking a lot about Smith actually because I'm deep in HOWARDS END, the book on which her third novel ON BEAUTY was "loosely based." I read ON BEAUTY first but now I'm itching to re-read it as soon as I finish my Dailylit deliveries.

05 March 2009

Do Not Feed The National Book Critics Circle

In the field of book reviewing, I am a very small fish in a big pond. While I've been reviewing books professionally for almost six years, I'm not in "the scene." Sam Tanenhaus isn't calling me up to pick up some of Toni Bentley's slack. Hey, that's okay; the money and prestige (ha!) is secondary to my passion for the work. Unfortunately, I let my ego get in the way when I decided to apply for the National Book Critics Circle in December. This organization took my money and gave me nothing in return.

I eagerly awaited my "welcome email letter... contact information for dozens of review editors and their requirements for reviews they seek" and the NBCC e-newsletter. My $40 check for membership dues was cashed on 12/22/08. Since then, I have received no confirmation e-mail, nor any newsletter. On 1/26/09, I sent a polite request through the NBCC's Website asking whether my membership had been processed yet. I did not receive any response. On 2/18/09 I wrote to membership@bookcritics.org, an e-mail address through which someone had contacted me in December when I was applying to join, and asked for confirmation of my membership. Crickets.

Meanwhile, since 12/22 the NBCC's blog has been updated hundreds of times times, including sharing its official stance on Twitter (quote: "Ditto. Twitto.") and a report on the NBCC party Jan. 24 at SoHo's Housing Works, to which I was not invited, but apparently there were free drinks there. How many drinks does $40 buy? I see next week the NBCC is presenting its annual awards, but I had to go to their website to find that out. How many e-mail newsletters does $40 buy?

If I had purchased an item from an online store and not received so much as a confirmation e-mail in over two months, I would consider myself the victim of a scam. I suppose I will have to devote my inferior writing skills into a complaint to the Better Business Bureau about this nonprofit organization which didn't even have the courtesy of sending me a receipt for my donation. I don't expect the National Book Critics Circle to do something as big as apologize to a little fish like me, but hopefully someone else will find this post and not make the same mistake. Seriously? These are the professionals?

ETA 3.7.09 I have been contacted by a member of the NBCC to verify my membership. Stay tuned.

04 March 2009


To the guy I saw on the subway last night reading this redesigned Bond book:

I don't know if you were actually reading this book or just trying to provoke the in-public morality police, but I should have given you a high-five. Not only does this cover make absolutely no sense upon close inspection, the question that immediately springs to mind is "What's the use of a robe that doesn't close all the way?" That cracked me up more than "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

Cover: mi6.co.uk

03 March 2009

Coming to theatres: "Never Let Me Go"

From my friend D.: Keira Knightley is in talks to star in an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel with screenplay by Alex Garland ("The Beach," "Sunshine") directed by Mark Romanek ("One Hour Photo," plus the music videos for "99 Problems" and the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt").

Without spoiling the book*, which I didn't particularly like, I think this casting is spot-on if she's being considered for the lead. And I like Knightley, but the coldness... oh, the coldness. It might be interesting to do a Filmbook entry for a book I actively disliked to see if the movie was able to change my mind.

*If you haven't read it, do not search for any news about this adaptation because a lot of stories spoil it right up front. The indignity.

01 March 2009

February Unbookening: So Much For Not Buying Any Books

Mooched 3 books
Got 4 from the library
Got 10 to review
Bought 4 books*
21 books in

Donated 6 books to Small Thrift Store
Returned 9 to the library
Sold 6 books
Gave away 2 others
Left 2 books in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport
25 books out

I didn't post a lot in February. It's not personal, and I'm not apologizing, because this is the Internet, but I will try to make more of an effort in March. Also, this month "Talk of the Town," my WEBR radio segment, is expected to make a Glorious Return, so you'll probably be hearing stuff about that. (Don't look so excited!)

*Mark Harris, PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION; Mike Davis, PLANET OF SLUMS; Joyce Carol Oates, BLONDE; COLLECTED STORIES OF RICHARD YATES.