31 March 2010

Filmbook: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2010)

I walked out of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" last night with possibly the best feeling you can get from an adaptation, namely: "I've got to read that book again." Quite the contrast from earlier in the film when I was thinking, "What the what have I gotten myself into?"

I read the bestselling Swedish crime thriller in 2008, when it was just one of many imports from foreign markets hoping to hit it big among American readers. I was riveted straight through to the second and third books* with only the delays of publishing schedules. There was a fair amount I had forgotten about the first book, though, prominent among them how incredibly violent and brutal it is. I know my tolerance for described violence is much higher for depicted violence, but some of the scenes, even though they were familiar, were shocking to me.**

I held my head thinking of the many people to whom I had recommended this book and whether my encouragement to go forth and read past the really depraved parts could be seen as an endorsement of the depraved parts. But even for that, I wanted to go back to the book and roll up the additional character development I know Larsson left there, to re-evaluate the paths each character took to their actions and whether (this is a major theme of the book) they were justified. So maybe the source of this discomfort was, to use a Nathan Rabinism, a Secret Success, because it pulled me into that world, instead of taking me out.***

As a thriller, "...Dragon Tattoo" suffers from a slight overuse of Ominous Music and a slow-to-pick-up story early on. But there are three great reasons to see this movie: Two are the leads, actors totally unknown to me who were fantastic. Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist is sort of a cross between Jeremy Renner and Alec Baldwin, and Noomi Rapace is just the right amount of powerful and awkward as Lisbeth Salander. They've already wrapped the trilogy of movies ("The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" came out last fall in Sweden) so for the Swedish public they are Kalle Bastard and Lisbeth.

The third reason is that David Fincher has signed on for the English-language remake, with filming to start after his Facebook movie comes out, and it will be very interesting to compare them. It's possible his version will be much more innovative than this one; then again, it can't just look good.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book first, despite misgivings; then see the movie.

* Oh yeah, that happened! I received the third book, and sleep got overrated for a little there.
** I even had to look away once -- to avoid giving spoilers I will say: the photos in the cellar, holy hell. But what a great visual match between that scene and the one in Henrik's attic, right? Creepy as fuck, but effective.
*** My relationship with superviolent movies has progressed from "hate them all" to "it's complicated." As with the last violent movie I saw, Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet," there were evidently those in the audience at "...Dragon Tattoo" who were not prepared for its nastier moments. "A Prophet" also uses its violence effectively, particularly in an incredible scene on the streets of Paris, but is a better movie overall.

30 March 2010


The Apple iPad ships this week; have you placed your order? Soon-to-be-owners may be interested to know it will stock 30,000 free books in its store right off the bat. Addy Dugdale speculates in Fast Company that the iPad will make reading spread faster than ever, "if in three years' time the iPad is as ubiquitous as the iPhone is." I hope that happens, because an army of touchpad clutchers will look quite silly.

Stephenie Meyer got out of her bathtub full of cash long enough to write a novella related to the third Twilight book ECLIPSE, which will be released in June. Well, it's nice to see the word "novella" getting some air?

The record for the most expensive comic book ever was broken yesterday when a copy of Action Comics No. 1, Superman's debut (published in 1938), sold for $1.5 million. The buyer is described in the Washington Post as "a hardcore comic book fan."

Here's a very timely list of Passover books from the Christian Science Monitor. I wasn't a fan of her last book, but that Dara Horn alternate Civil War history sounds super.

Finally, the movie "How To Train Your Dragon" topped the box office this weekend based on a British YA novel. Because I am amused, a list of all the titles in the series so far:
How to Train Your Dragon
How to Be a Pirate
How to Speak Dragonese
How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse
How to Twist a Dragon's Tale
A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons
How to Ride a Dragon's Storm
How to Break a Dragon's Heart
Dazzle the 9-year-olds of your acquaintance today.

Mostly useless Star Wars bookends via SlipperyBrick.com

29 March 2010

Jonathan Franzen Cover Unveiled

No, that's my homage to Bubleraptor. This is the real one.

I'll make sure to attach this file to my umpteenth request for Photoshop access for the department. I can't use MS Paint, I'm an artist.

Fitzgerald, at last

"Gatz," the 6-hour adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" I wrote about last year as a gift for the book lover you love, will open the Public Theater's 2010-2011 season next fall. First calendar item for September 2010!

I'm over at Wrapped Up in Books this week for book club (or will be in a few hours) so come by and talk about THE WRESTLER'S CRUEL STUDY.

28 March 2010

James Franco: Serious Author

James Franco has published a story in this month's Esquire called "Just Before The Black." It is a story about a few friends in L.A. driving around, doing drugs and fighting with each other. At least in this corner, his appearance shall admit no discourse to his mediocrity.

An editor from People told me once that the magazine focused on "extraordinary people doing ordinary things, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things." I guess Franco's story would fall into that former category because I have read a fair amount of stories like that in fiction classes past, although mostly I was spared the stretches of homophobic conversation. (For this relief, much thanks.) The writer alters the familiar dictum to read "write what you know, but cooler," with the aggressive language to match, which really bothered Whitney Pastorek of Entertainment Weekly... and she has a point. The protagonist wants to get into a car accident! Edgy!

Maybe he just hasn't found his Gordon Lish. Franco is 31 years old and has taken MFA classes at Columbia, although (from what I could find) he never finished the degree. He was a student there when he got his book deal for the forthcoming collection of stories PALO ALTO (Scribner, October). Would I like to have a book deal and an Esquire clip under my belt by the time I'm 31? Absolutely. But in an age when most magazines don't publish any fiction at all, it's depressing to see one of the few that does making space for a "celebrity author," with quotes fully intended. Even among the field of authors originally famous for doing other things, Esquire could do better. I hear good things about that Nick Cave novel that came out last year. They have a lot of good writers in their stable; why waste the space on a guy whose fan base (of which I am not one, even before this started) won't buy the magazine for this story anyway?

And I couldn't end this post if I didn't also label him a tremendous douche for accepting the subhed "Author (and actor)." I mean, game over.

27 March 2010

Submitted name change: "Casual Library"

I saw one of those leave-one, take-one bookshelves today in a place where it made perfect sense: at the end of a hallway in the English department at Barnard College here in New York. Who has more books lying around than English majors and/or professors? That is some essential furniture. (I'll spare you my blurry documentation of what is basically a brown wooden shelf with a printout taped to it. And a complete audio set of INTO THIN AIR for some reason.)

I wish I had a leave-one-take-one I could study up close, being generally obsessed with how people behave around books as I am. Here are a few other places I think would benefit from these shelves:

My apartment building. When I have gotten to books people have left out (they tend to disappear in under an hour), the unwanted volumes are often of very high quality. That's how I got my copy of WRITTEN ON THE BODY (recommend!) It could sit right in front of the bricked-in fireplace.

My office. This may be the only way to figure out whether and what my coworkers read without having to ask them and risk being outed as more of a nerd than as I am already known. Maybe I can lobby for it when we move floors, a relocation that was supposed to be completed by the end of February and is now forecasted for late May. (It could be worse; rumor has it the department next to us is moving to one floor for a few months and then rejoining us on our new floor. Sorry, is this the tip line for Corporate Displacement Weekly?)

My parents' house. Wait, wait, hear me out. There are books spilling out of our house and my mom has them organized somehow -- but casually browsing through them I have no way of knowing whether she's waiting to read those books or trying to shed them. Besides, when we're all at home we tend to discombobulate each other, which I'm sure is how the "family" copy of the "Indiana Jones" trilogy DVDs "accidentally" went to college with my youngest sister.

Subway and train stations and airports. I've put this one last because I recognize that with the security risks involved, this will probably not happen. (Bomb-sniffing library dog?) But it would be convenient to have a place to yield books you finish in transit, and also pick out a new one instead of staring blankly at a magazine wall. It would also give an otherwise often sterile and deeply uncomfortable environment a shred of personality, as a bonus. Barcelona and Paris have book vending machines in the subway, but that's not the same.

26 March 2010

And Now, The Keira Knightley Literary Adaptation Beat Report

In terms of starring in adaptations, Keira Knightley is definitely headed down the Thompson/Moore/Paltrow path of frequent offenders, and it's working out well for her. So it's not at all surprising that she's signed on for the adaptation of Claire Messud's THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN, about nearly-30-somethings in New York City just before 9/11. Richard Gere has also been cast, and if you've read the book, you'll perhaps share my disinterest in seeing him play Murray Thwaite. The movie will be directed by Noah Baumbach, who I largely like (though I haven't seen "Greenberg" yet) but it almost seems like too perfect a subject match -- "Kicking and Screaming 2: The Kickening."

The long-discussed adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO starring Knightley (or as I like to call her, McCheekbones), Carey Mulligan, Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling is due out late this year in Oscar-bait season. (When I went to IMDb to look this up, it suggested a story in which Mulligan expressed an interest in doing the English-language remake of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo." Get out of my head, Internet!)

Incidentally, NEVER LET ME GO and THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN in my opinion are both novels that suffer from weaknesses related to character development, or a mishandling of such. In one of these books, there is a plausible reason for that! For that reason I wasn't a huge fan of either one so it's possible I may like the movies better. I hope we can still be friends.

UK cover of THE EMPEROR'S CHILDREN (New Yorkers, name the location): Fantasticfiction.co.uk

AV Club in Los Angeles April 1: It's No Joke

Well, there will probably be a lot of jokes. But if you think I'm pulling your leg about this AV Club reading in L.A., you will be very sorry on the 2nd.

Go meet my coworkers, friends and heroes at Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd, at 7:30PM on the 1st. (That's between Silver Lake and Echo Park, near Dodger Stadium -- thanks, Google Maps!) You can buy your advance tickets here. Bring your copy of INVENTORY, still available in the best bookstores everywhere, and I bet they'll sign it.

25 March 2010

I coulda been a contender in that sport

Kentucky players are leery of the news media's angle projecting the Big Red as the heady players against the talented but less savvy Wildcats.

DeMarcus Cousins, the star Wildcat freshman big man, said the game would not be determined by "who can read the fastest."

Cousins added: "We’re here to play basketball. It’s not a spelling bee."
New York Times: "Cornell Counts on Closeness Against Kentucky." (Thanks, Nikki!) If I didn't need Kentucky to win for bracket's sake...

They can't even include the notebook for that price?

This is a real writing course offered at a New York-area university you would recognize by name. Goldberg wept:

Paying $165 to do this kind of exercise supervised, no matter how useful it is, is completely bonkers. I would never discourage anyone from taking a writing class if s/he wanted to, but if you are seriously considering this, maybe we can work something out in the "fancy cup of coffee" price range.

24 March 2010

Three delightful things

David Mamet's quick and dirty writing tips, via a memo he sent to the writers of the show "The Unit." Mamet himself has broken most of these, but they're still entertaining. Love that he clearly knows he's writing in all caps yet he seems UNABLE TO STOP.

Maybe it's a little too cutesy that Brooklyn's new poet laureate supposedly read "The Waste Land" to her unborn son. But I immediately thought of Betty Smith's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, in which the poor Irish mother decides to read her kids a page from the Bible and a page from Shakespeare every night. If you like plucky heroines, turn-of-the-century historical fiction or tales of surviving through economic distress, it's a must-read -- I've probably done so at least 20 times.

Finally, this isn't new, but how am I not going to post a video of a folk band jammed into a bookstore playing? The band is called Mumford & Sons, the store is unknown:

23 March 2010

There are several reasons to do this. One is curiosity. Another is just tasting what's in the water in the culture you're living in. If you fear it will be bad, consider the fact that if the book is actually bad, you can say the book is bad and actually know what you're talking about, instead of relying on the many other people who say the book is bad. If you're going to crack on it, you might as well have something informed to say. Another is that if the book is 90 percent bad and 10 percent good, you will be surprised by the 10 percent.

And, of course, some of you will like the book. At least, you may come to understand what it is that appeals to people about it, or what manipulative powers it has, or what you think is destructive about it, or whatever greater understanding you might gain. I'm guessing it will make for an interesting, and/or amusing, and/or surprising discussion.
I bet you can guess what book NPR's (new to me) pop culture blog Monkey See picked for its first group read! They actually do a decent job making the case for why you would read a book you're pretty sure will be bad, although in this case at least I'm not sold.

22 March 2010

New York Book Week: BEA for everyone?

The organizers of BookExpo America, the annual publishing trade show, are trying to expand their reach this year with the announcement of New York Book Week, events during and linked to BEA but open to everyone. The bill isn't filled yet for May 25th through 27th, but so far they have a short-story event featuring Ira Glass and a reading at the Brooklyn Public Library by Jonathan Franzen.

This is great news if you don't want to shell out for a BEA pass, can't take the time off (the decision to move to mid-week: why?) or just generally like book-related things. As far as an attendance driver for the show itself, I have my doubts, but it could happen; I attended BEA last year and had a grand old time, but I'll be watching the New York Book Week slate as well.

21 March 2010

Homeric Tours -- An Odyssey Every Time!

Taken this afternoon on Ditmars Blvd. in the (predominately known as) Greek neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Hope you saved a lot of vacation days.

As it happens I had a nice chat with a book cover designer while I was out in Queens. I told her I had a lot of burning questions about cover design and I hope she believed me. She said designers sometimes read the books they're designing, not always, but often they're curious anyway. She and the hostess of the party we were at mentioned Jedediah Berry's THE MANUAL OF DETECTION, hardcover edition, as an example of superlative cover design from last year.

20 March 2010

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period --
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay --

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
--Emily Dickinson, in honor of the spring equinox or as I like to think of it, opening day of iced coffee season.

I used to find Dickinson fusty and mannered, so I only take her in small doses now.

19 March 2010

Presented Without Comment

Check the Rembrandt in your bathroom

Last year I reviewed a book called THE GARDNER HEIST by Ulrich Boser, about an unsolved theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in which two thieves disguised as police officers picked up some $500 million in art including the famous Rembrandt seen at left.

The case is back in the news this week because the Boston police department has bought some billboards mentioning the tip line and a $5 million reward for information, on the 20th anniversary of the heist. The New York Times notes, however, that the statute of limitations for prosecuting the thieves has run out -- in other words, they're not mad, they just want the art back.

It was believed for a long time that the culprits were low-level thugs with ties to various Boston-based criminal organizations, but their taste was incredibly sophisticated -- they clearly had been well-informed to pick out the valuable and significant pieces that they did, and not just rush in, cut a few canvases and rush out. Whoever they were working for had the good sense not to fence any of the pieces, but then what was their motivation if not money?

In keeping with the museum charter, which demands that it be left just as founder and benefactor Gardner intended, the galleries still contain empty spaces where the paintings used to hang. But don't wait until it's solved to go -- it's a lovely building (especially this time of year with the courtyards in bloom) and an incredible if incomplete collection. And read the Boser book, but skip the documentary on the same topic.

18 March 2010

"This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written."
--Nicholas Sparks to USA Today on Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN. When reached for comment, McCarthy responded, "Who?"

Okay, not really. Writers Sparks actually likes: Ernest Hemingway, J.D. Salinger.

17 March 2010

Filmbook: Hollywood, Adapt These Please!

This entry was originally going to be a round-up of all the neat and of-note book adaptations coming to theatres this spring, except guess what? There are no good ones. Seriously, the only one I'm remotely excited about is the previously covered "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and then it's all comedies and Nicholas Sparks adaptations until summer sequelmania. I must be getting old because I actually feel this is a legitimate gripe: What are we adults supposed to watch for the next two months?

So instead, I'm putting up this slate of four books that should be hot properties but of whose current adaptation I could find no evidence. Please chime in with our own! Second assistants, prepare to be promoted:

Orhan Pamuk, SNOW. International bestseller plus densely atmospheric prose equals winning a million Oscars. (I believe that's how James Cameron conceived "Avatar." And that joke is officially stale.) I'm seeing Liev Schreiber as the title character in this twisty story of long-lost love and systematic oppression.

Dan Savage, THE COMMITMENT. With the right script this could be the first mainstream gay romantic comedy to find an audience in the same way that "Brokeback Mountain" did for gay drama. ("Chuck and Larry" nothing.) Savage's memoir about his doubts over marrying his longtime partner is funny, heartfelt and makes it impossible for those who maintain that gay marriage is a "debate" that has nothing to do with love to carry on as they do. I'm fairly sure Savage will never allow a big-screen version of his memoir to come to fruition in his lifetime, but then again he's allowing a musical of one of his others, so it can't be any worse than that.

Harold Pinter, THE DWARFS. His long-lost (and never published till 2006) novel and my secret ace in the hole when it comes to taking snobby theater people down a peg. If a mumblecore director out there wants to step up and take on something scripted, this is more or less a mumblecore movie but set among London students in the '60s. My copy is underlined to hell because everyone in this book talks like someone I know or used to know.

Adam Langer, CROSSING CALIFORNIA. A sweet and pop-culture-savvy coming-of-age book set in Chicago in 1979; think an urban "Adventureland" with a little "Degrassi Junior High" on top. It would be a hard sell for mainstream success but if you cast mostly unknowns and aim it at people who liked "The Royal Tenenbaums," you'll have an arthouse hit.

Disclaimer: Everything I learned about the film industry, I learned from books like William Goldman's ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE.

16 March 2010

The most rollicking, unflinching, unputdownable post ever

My friend Anna linked to this great article "Book Review Bingo," in which the author not only identifies the top critic clichés but assembles them into helpful bingo cards for your perusal of, say, the Sunday books section of your local newspaper if you still have one.

I have definitely used some of these. A good number, which I will not go back and count because I feel too embarrassed. The only one I can honestly say I do my best to avoid is "unputdownable," because that is not a word. I just spotlight-searched my computer for it and I promise, it didn't come up

(Sidebar: I recently heard someone use the word "learnings" so many times I thought I was going to pass out from rage. As in, "From working with widgets for a while, I have a lot of learnings to share with you." No you DO NOT. You have lessons to share with us, or you learned a lot to share. Of all the fake words I've heard in my life I think "learnings" is the worst.)

Even through my shame I can admit that this article is dead on, and yet I have no defense. Is it because we are all striving to be mini-Kakutanis and are imitating the same small pool of critics a bit too slavishly? Is it because we don't allow our editors to tell us hard truths about how to avoid staleness? I hope neither of these are true, but for myself, I can only hope to write the next one better.

15 March 2010

Singing Dancing Authors

The Daily Beast: The more I read about Elif Batuman's THE POSSESSED, the more I think this book of essays about Russian literature will be right up my alley. Here she offers a list of "alternative Russian classics."

Financial Times: UVa gave some of its new grad students a Kindle DX at the beginning of the year to see whether it would be feasible to go electronic with virtually all its course material. Not surprisingly, the answer is "maybe."

One Minute Book Reviews: Today book blogger extraordinaire Janice Harayda announces the winner of her Delete Key Award for the worst passage she's read in the past year. And since she reviews a book a day, I'm inclined to trust her! Finalists include a disturbing number of my recent reads, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, IT SUCKED AND THEN I CRIED and THE LOST SYMBOL (personally, the only one of those I wanted to send sailing across the room, but your mileage may vary).

New York Times: An adaptation of John Grisham's book A TIME TO KILL will take the stage in Washington D.C. next year, the first of his books to do so. It gives me scant hope that the company putting it on commissioned Rupert Holmes to write the script, the writer and composer of "Drood" but also "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)."

The Canadian Press: Margaret Atwood recently shot a cameo for a forthcoming Canadian movie called "Score: A Hockey Musical," in which she plays herself. I don't know what's better, that there is going to be a hockey musical (I picture it like the "Single Ladies"-driven episode of "Glee," except on ice) or that Atwood is considered famous enough to play herself in it. Biggest author coup since Salman Rushdie popped up in "Bridget Jones' Diary"?

Graphic for no reason: LOLerature.

14 March 2010

The Ethicist on library fines

Finally, the important stuff!

I borrowed “Juliet Naked,” the latest Nick Hornby novel, from my local library a few weeks ago. It is due today. Unfortunately I’m only about halfway through and can’t renew it, because it is on hold for another patron. I’m willing to pay the penalty, 25 cents a day, so I can keep reading. May I do that, or must I return it knowing that someone else is waiting for it? RACHEL BUCCI, SALEM, ORE.

You must return the book. That 25-cent charge is not a rental fee but a goad to return it promptly. As you note, other people are waiting for the book, hence the library’s decision not to let you renew it. That the fee is inadequate to provide a proper incentive, that the library does not instead charge $25 a day or $250 a day or impose a vigorous flogging (as described in the no-doubt-renewable “Mutiny on the Bounty”), bespeaks ineffectual enforcement tactics, not the freedom to keep a popular book past its due date. Similarly, the willingness and wherewithal to pay a speeding ticket does not make it O.K. to speed. (That’s why some countries make the price of a speeding ticket proportional to the daredevil’s income.) The injunction “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” is specious. It should be “Don’t do the crime.” The public library is such a splendid institution; you should honor what I suspect you know to be the intent of this rule rather than embrace some sort of money-talks philosophy.

update: Bucci returned the book. She intends to check it out again.

from today's NYT Magazine. I feel like while returning a book late may not be fair, it's a bit of a stretch to raise it to unethical. We don't know whether Ms. Bucci needs to keep the book out another day or two -- say, on a rainy weekend when running the simplest errand makes you want to just build an ark already -- or for a few weeks more. There are no degrees in ethical difference, but practically speaking, there are.

Then again, I clearly have a financial interest in this topic. (I also found the book in question very hard to put down, but that's neither here nor there.) What do you think?

13 March 2010

Keeping a reading journal

In its continual quest to Madoff my life, the manufacturer of Moleskine has come out with a "Book Journal" where you can record the books you've read, memorable quotes and so on -- information I gleaned from watching the winsome advertisement (of course there is).

I used to keep a notebook like this every year and it was very useful. My DIY notebook looked like this: A new page for every book; title on the top line with author beneath; started/finished dates and below that, my review. Typically I would use a notebook around 3.5"x5" which allows for limited space to make notes, but enough for a few sentences.

But here's the trick: You have to carry it around with you all the time, otherwise you will stop writing your reviews, stop adding to your to-read list (and not have it with you in bookstores!) and end up writing your book matter on any old scrap of paper or the biggest scrap of all, the Internet. It wasn't the notebooks' fault, I just fell out of the habit.

Even if you don't plan on keeping any kind of reading journal (much less a blog!) you should definitely have a list of the books you've read. You are doing that, right? It's early enough in the year that you can catch up for 2010. Just open a Word doc right now; allow 3-6 months for accomplishment.

12 March 2010

Post-Oscars Reverse Filmbook Special: Lynn Barber's AN EDUCATION

As a book supremacist, I nearly always try to read the book a movie is based on before watching the movie itself. I didn't think to do this for "An Education," the Best Picture-nominated movie about a teenage girl in London in the '60s, but when I looked it up afterward I discovered the book hadn't even come out in the U.S. yet. When I got an e-mail out of the blue from Atlas Books about the memoir the movie was based on, I was pretty excited.

If you haven't seen the movie yet and you should, a quick non-spoilery summary: Jenny, a teenager who fancies herself a sophisticate in training, meets an older man named David when he gives her a lift home from orchestra rehearsal. (Orchestra: where trouble begins.) David seems to be a portal into the glamorous world Jenny dreams of entering, much more than the college education her parents have always insisted she needs to succeed in life, but is he really? It boasts a screenplay by fellow British author Nick Hornby, which was also nominated for an Oscar but lost (to "The Hurt Locker," I think "Precious," my mistake).

The book, while short, covers Barber's whole life, while the movie only shows a few of her teenage years. I guess it's a spoiler then to reveal that she does not die by the end of the movie, but you're bright, you probably figured that out. After the events shown in the movie took place, Barber went on to have a pretty interesting life. She worked at Penthouse when it was a tiny start-up; she hobnobbed with the Condé Nast crew in New York; she had children and a career at a time when most nice girls didn't.

That's the first important difference. The second is that Barber's prose is very spare and matter-of-fact, employing the understatement some would call classically British to tasks like describing the content of Penthouse (apparently it was classier back then?) or relating her husband's struggle with cancer. The movie plays up the difference between Jenny/Lynn's shabby, drab family home and dull classroom existence and the flashbulb-happy, opulent life she is exposed to through David (Simon in the book); add a striking color palette and a few well-chosen touches of music, and seeing Barber's experiences in the movie is a much richer experience than reading about it. (For director Lone Scherfig, who began in the Dogme 95 tradition, employing these tools must feel like an embarrassment of riches.)

I don't mean to say that Hornby or Scherfig captured Barber's life better than she did, because that would be ridiculous. But it's easier to assign a particular arc to a section of your life rather than all of it, and somewhere along in adaptation it must have been decided that this was the section to focus on. Barber makes it clear that what happened to her as a teenager changed her life, so it's not an incorrect vision by any means. Still, I appreciated being able to complete the picture through the book, because I would have wondered otherwise what became of her.

Verdict: If you see the movie, you should definitely read this book. Run out and buy it now if you're a teenage girl and you liked the movie, because while I liked "An Education" more than I expected to, I would have loved it at, say, 15, but also seen it as a tragedy, and the book offers some perspective. With age comes wisdom, kids! It's my birthday, I should know.

FTC cover-assery: as mentioned, Atlas Books sent me a free copy to review.

11 March 2010

Luckily, you can still say "power corrupts"

The CEO of the Tribune Company has put out a list of words and phrases his anchors aren't allowed to say on air because they keep the news from being "conversational." Say goodbye to "alleged," "no brainer," "unrest" and "reeling," along with "really." Really? He's right about "mute point," though.

Spotted on the subway: Vladimir Nabokov edition

On an errand to the Upper East side, a teenage girl in jeans, black hair and a backpack reading LOLITA. I would have put her at 15 or 16, but she got off at the Hunter College stop so it's possible she was older that that.

I like to believe generally in the universality of reading, by which I mean anyone who reads a certain book can pull some irreducible experience out of it that can be shared with anyone else who has read it. And yet I recognize this isn't always the case. In this case I think there is a texture to reading LOLITA for the first time as a teenage girl, or close to, that cannot be replaced by reading about what it's like to read LOLITA as a teenage girl or trying to place yourself in the mindset of a teenage girl.

I was 18 when I first read LOLITA, and I wouldn't say that texture completely informed my reading, but it's still there. I would liken it in moments to the feeling you get reading about a fatal disease with a mild but sudden onset. But I haven't done it justice and I don't know that I can get closer. And if I allow that I have to allow that I will and have read books in my life whose content is not accessible to me in some way, and that there is no remedy for that.

10 March 2010

NYC: "Literary Mixtape" Reading

I think there's enough material here for a series, but Symphony Space is hosting a night of performances of works by Hannah Tinti, Carson McCullers and E.L. Doctorow on March 24 that looks pretty cool. The closest analogue to this event is Upstairs at the Square, a monthly concert/reading series at the Union Square Barnes and Noble -- I've only been once, but it was a great time. That is (by chance) also going on this week with performances on Thursday by YA author Blake Nelson (PARANOID PARK) and the band Care Bears On Fire.

09 March 2010

Road trip?

Via wallace-l, the University of Texas has acquired David Foster Wallace's manuscripts and book collection. Apparently Don DeLillo had something to do with it? The lot includes a poem about Vikings DFW wrote in first grade (save your juvenilia!) and some notes in a copy of Borges.
This woman has dragged, nudged, coaxed, led, stirred, embroiled, mocked, seduced, finagled, or carried me into every last instance of delight or sorrow, every debacle, every success, every brilliant call, and every terrible mistake, that I have known or made. I'm grateful for that, because if it were not for her, I would never go anywhere, never see anything, never meet anyone. It's too much bother. It's dangerous, hard work, or expensive. I lost my ticket. I kind of have a headache. They don't speak English there, it's too far away, they're closed for the day, they're full, they said we can't, it's too much bother with children along.

08 March 2010

The happiest writer in the world this morning

Hands down, has to be Mark Boal, the screenwriter behind "The Hurt Locker" which picked up Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture at last night's Oscars in an epic triumph of good over evil. Boal, a New York-born reporter who has also written for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, apparently wrote a movie so realistic he is now being sued by a man who thinks the character of a rogue bomb-disposal expert (played by Jeremy Renner in the movie) was based on him. Tough break.

Second happiest is probably Sapphire, the author of the novel "Precious" was based on, because after screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher (the first African-American to win a screenwriting Oscar) thanked her in his speech, she even got a brief reaction shot in the audience. Then they cut back to Morgan Freeman, because ABC was apparently under contract to cut to him every ten minutes. It was duller than last year's awards, but somewhat redeemed by the twist ending.

ETA: I wasn't going to do this, but third happiest has to be Elinor Burkett, who caused one of the night's weirdest scenes when she cut in on her co-director's acceptance speech for Best Documentary Short. She completely Kanyed, if Kanye ever wore a purple silk caftan. (Likely.) Her name jogged my memory and now I realize she came to speak at my high school after her nonfiction book ANOTHER PLANET: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A SUBURBAN HIGH SCHOOL was published. Well... she had her moment.

07 March 2010


So my feed reader where I pick up all my bloggin' goodness has been acting up, making it temporarily appear now and then as if there were no new entries to read anywhere. How could all my blogmigos go on blogcation without me? When it is working, like now, I'm overwhelmed with stuff I missed, plus I'm totally pre-posting this because today I have to go to Washington Heights to get my ass kicked, (and then go home and reconsider my life choices?), so here are some items of note that may be slightly out of date:

First and foremost, we have a landing date:

That's the Tuesday before Labor Day, so you know not to go anywhere this year. Perhaps by then J-Franz will have a working website for hopeful readers to visit, but that is a completely different topic of discussion.

Yann Martel was pretty stoked to get a fan letter from President Obama. But who wouldn't be? (via Galleycat)

This street art exhibit is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The artists, originally from Madrid, spread out 800 books on a street in Brooklyn (that's the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of the street in the first photo) over two hours one night and called it "Literature finally won the traffic battle in New York."

CBS has ordered a comedy pilot for this fall about a "book editor at a boutique New York publishing house" called "Open Books." I don't expect much coming from a producer of "Will and Grace," but I am slightly curious now that they've cast Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti in it.

Billy Crudup will take on the role of a controversial writer Off-Broadway this spring in a new play by one of my favorite playwrights, Adam Rapp. The play, "The Metal Children," is about a YA author who goes to the small town where one of his books has been banned -- something Rapp went through in Pennsylvania a few years ago with his YA novel THE BUFFALO TREE. I was on board this hype train before Crudup got involved but it's always good to see him when he's not all blue and glowy. You can also see him this summer as Elizabeth Gilbert's ex-husband in "Eat, Pray, Love."

Finally, via Flavorwire, the trailer for Seth Grahame-Smith's ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER (not for kids):

Frankly I've seen better Lincolns in the national park system. If only I could remember where.

06 March 2010

Spotted on the subway

Short gray hair under a baseball cap, offered me a seat and when I declined he sat, pulled out this book and disappeared into it.

05 March 2010

Shakespeare humor: still funny

I just discovered this Married To The Sea comic (via Nikki, my friend in funny) and it is wrought of brilliance:

And there's a shirt. If owning two T-shirts with Shakespeare's face on them is wrong, then I definitely don't want to be right and am thisclose to actually not being right.

04 March 2010

Want to talk about MASTER AND COMMANDER?

Chat about Patrick O'Brian with me today at 4:30 PM EST (3:30 CST, 1:30PST, 11:30AM Hawaii time, 10:30PM CET -- is that everybody?). Look for the link over here.

(This is what my copy looks like, displaying the episode in the book where the "Sophie" is menaced by Russell Crowe's ginormous head and epic seriousface.)

Your Assistance Please: And I Was A Boy From School edition

What's a writing assignment you were given that you really enjoyed doing?

03 March 2010

Books whose titles I like, but apparently not enough to have actually read them:

02 March 2010

America's Next Top Book Editor

Contents of an e-mail I received yesterday:
[Production company] is casting a new reality show that takes place in the world of NYC book publishing. The show is in the same vein as "Top Chef" or "Project Runway," but about books! We're looking for people who want to become a book editor at a major publishing house.

We're looking for interesting personalities with strong opinions obviously, but anyone who has a passionate desire to be a part of the publishing world would be great. If you know of anyone who might be interested please have them write to us [e-mail redacted]. Let us know why you would be great for this show! Best to include a picture of yourself and write "book editor" in the subject line of the email.
Hooboy. (See also: "a cross between "Jersey Shore" and "Anna Karenina.")

01 March 2010

February Unbookening and unsolicited pen recommendation

Checked 9 out from the library
Got 10 to review
Bought 1
Received 1 as a gift (Jane Gardam's THE PEOPLE OF PRIVILEGE HILL)
21 in

Returned 13 to the library
Donated 6
Gave away 2
21 out

I'm going to make an assumption about you, that if you like dead-tree media as much as I do you might also be particular about your pens. (If you find this suggestion offensive, sorry.) I am quite particular myself, you might even say fussy, but I still do a fair amount in longhand so I feel justified. Anyway, if you're in the market, I recommend the Bic Triumph 537R (looks like this). It writes very smoothly without pressure and the capacity is excellent. Now who wants a letter?