31 August 2010

Whoa! The bigass Upper West Side Barnes & Noble is closing. (Earlier: For Sale, One Bookstore.)

30 August 2010

Unrelated, but "insidious" is a terrific word which doesn't get used enough

This is not about FREEDOM, but: Maybe when you get to a certain echelon of literary criticism, it no longer bothers you to have to pan a book you were looking forward to for months, for which you cleared out your time and hunkered down, and from which you expected so much better. Transcendence, really. Maybe when you roll out your scroll of judgments rendered, the few fade from view, just a handful, because most of them turn out just like they should. The burned dinners of the long marriage; the rainouts of the championship season.

If so, I have not ascended yet. "Oh, but who cares? It's just a book." If I didn't care, would I be in this cul-de-sac at all?

Franzenfest T-1: Franzenfest Eve!

It's not technically an embargo, but I understand the Sarah Lawrence College bookstore started selling copies of FREEDOM on Saturday. (I didn't go all the way up there to, ahem, verify.)

I finally had time to sit down with the Tanenhaus review over the weekend -- with the PAPER Times, no less! -- and good LORD is it windy. Without speculating on the internal politics of one of the last freestanding book review sections in the country, I suspect the first eight paragraphs could be cut from the review without meaningful damage, and the 9/11 imagery is, as usual, uncalled for. That's my review of the review.

If you're planning to read FREEDOM, have you pre-ordered, or are you even going to the bookstore on publication day? Buy it now or wait for interlibrary loan?

29 August 2010

Franzenfest T-2: The Other Franzen

If the hype machine is so busy propping up Jonathan Franzen, why aren't there any FREEDOM midnight release parties in New York where I can go dressed as my favorite character from THE CORRECTIONS? I know, I didn't believe it either -- this is the city that just last year hosted a combination Vladimir Nabokov-Sarah Palin midnight release party. What's your excuse, World?

Anyway, I didn't find that, but it turns out there is another famous Franzen out in the atmosphere. Meet DJ Franzen, who according to his MySpace page (!) is "YOUR GIRLFRIEND'S FAVORITE DJ!" Here's his artistic statement:

SOME OF THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE!!!! a shot of PERFECTION(aged cognac) by A. HARDY... $750!!! dinner at JASMINE @ the BELLAGIO... $16,000!!! blackjack at the BELLAGIO... $100,000!!! Gulfstream 500.. $45,000,000!!! throwin up the ROC and eating CRUSTACEAN'S 40,000 feet in elevation with HOVA... P R I C E L E S S ! ! ! !

You have no idea how hard it was for me not to edit that last contraction. No idea.

The coincidences pile up. DJ Franzen is a Las Vegas- and San Francisco-based entertainer; Jonathan Franzen spends part of his year in California! DJ Franzen also seems to have a radio show, and J-Franz has been on the radio before! Jonathan Franzen is discussed on Twitter; DJ Franzen has a Twitter account:

And they both have glasses! If this guy ever writes a book or New York Franzen is ever spotted with Jay-Z, we could have a real branding problem on our hands. Don't forget, you read about it here first.

28 August 2010

Franzenfest T-3: A Bevy of Links

I know, you're tired of this already. Don't worry, it will be over soon.

  • First, Amazon accidentally leaked the entire digital version of FREEDOM to some lucky readers on Thursday. And none of you notified me?! You're all furloughed. (New York Post)
  • In an interview with the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Franzen slagged TIME Magazine, right-wing political movements and, bizarrely, his own significant other. Ah, he never did learn! Pretty sure that "Santa Cruz girl" will be making him sleep on the couch. (SCS via the New York Observer)
  • Santa Cruz, by the way, is the first stop on Franzen's extensive book tour, including two stops in his hometown of St. Louis, three in New York and the National Book Festival in D.C.
  • As mentioned earlier in the week, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner are continuing to criticize the Times for its literary bias with regard to Mr. Franzen. (The Times has now printed not one but two raves for FREEDOM ahead of publication.) I think that's how @emperorfranzen got started -- because both are avid Twitter users and Weiner started using the delectable term franzenfreude to refer to the hype machine we are busy feeding. (Guilty, so guilty.) I like that they are somewhat shifting the burden off Franzen himself for benefiting from what they perceive as a bias... and I don't think they're entirely wrong. (The Huffington Post)
  • It's hilarious that Newsweek titled its story about J-Franz and the baggage his name brings up post-Oprah "The Man We Knew Too Much." Spencer Pratt should call his agent.
  • Given what we now know per the TIME article about how Franzen writes -- taking extreme precautions to eliminate himself from distractions like the Internet -- he would be a great candidate for a celebrity endorsement of the Internet-blocking software also called Freedom. (I downloaded it but haven't used it because my current Secret Writing Trick is working fine. Mustn't break stride.)
  • Finally: "The title could mollify some rightwing freakazoids who might think their Muslim president is spending his holiday reading a treatise on their favourite, if never fully defined, subject of Freedom. True, Franzen may have intended the title ironically, but as Bruce Springsteen, singer of Born in the USA (which, hilariously, was being blasted out during the non-mosque protests over the weekend in NY) could tell him, sometimes some fans don't quite understand the concept." The always perceptive Hadley Freeman on the President and his vacation reading. (Guardian.co.uk)

27 August 2010

Better than a G***n B**k rally

This is a thing now: Two comics bloggers have declared tomorrow is Read a Comic in Public Day. There's even a website, in case those instructions weren't clear enough. New Yorkers, there are free goody bags for the having in Union Square at 1PM from Forbidden Planet. (PW via Bookninja)

What's the next genre that should be rescued from public stigma?

Full Brooklyn Book Festival schedule is up

After dropping hints like crazy, here it is. Related, anyone have a cloning machine I can borrow?

26 August 2010

2666 Made Commuter-Friendly

I'm attached to my single-volume edition for sentimental reasons, but the new 3-volume set of Roberto Bolaño's magnum opus looks great:

I've read that although the publishers were the ones to determine the volumes, the splits make sense within the context of the book. Nicely done, Macmillan.

Image via Bygone Bureau.

25 August 2010

Emperor Franzen

Favorite thing right now: @EmperorFranzen. Born just hours ago, it looks like. See also: "My fascinating and brilliant new novel is the only chance you fools have of seeing this fractured industry united." And there's the biography: "I was on the cover of TIME. That's TIME magazine, bitches. I don't think you realize what a big deal that is. 110% more better writer than real J. Franzen." Well. Played.

Dear Stephen King, Can You Give Me $5

Forbes' list of the world's 10 top earning authors (via My Open Wallet) doesn't offer a lot of surprises, nor trivia, except this: #4 Danielle Steel's earnings include a $1 millin settlement from her former assistant who was caught embezzling from her. So really, that's not so much "income" as "a previous unknown expense which has now been stopped," right?

Here's some more trivia from the authors whose names we have all seen everywhere a million times:
  • #6 Dean Koontz has had hair transplant surgery. (Cost: probably under $18 million.)
  • #1 James Patterson (Inc. -- he mostly writes the outlines) has 17 books due to his publisher by the end of 2010. So if you're reading this, JP Inc., get back to work.
  • #10 JK Rowling would probably be considered the most inactive on this list since her last book, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, was published in 2007. Drowning in a bathtub full of money, no doubt.
  • #5 Ken Follett is a major political contributor to a UK politician named Ed Balls. (Sorry, the Right Honorable Edward Michael Balls.)
  • #7 Janet Evanovich is the only one whose copyright information in the books grants the title to Janet Evanovich Inc. So the joke I just made about James Patterson, in retrospect, was not that great. Get back to work too, JE Inc.
  • With the money #3 Stephen King made last year, he could give $5 to 6.8 million people, so you'd better ask him soon.
I have read 5 of these 10 authors, though I'm not sure they were the right 5.

24 August 2010

Hint: It's not about vampires. (Or anything Halloween-related.)

If you please, mosey on over to The AV Club to find out what my book club pick for October is. There's already one hater in the comments, but the fifth one wins a pizza!

23 August 2010

Bad romance

The Daily Beast rounds up eight great "literary love affairs," including the Shelley-Byron-Shelley love triangle, but I think we can do better. The only thing worth noting of Norman Mailer and his 18th 6th wife is that someone still married him after he tried to kill one of his other wives. But then, I'm sure that's what they said about Henry VIII. Hemingway wrote a play about his and Martha Gellhorn's relationship called "The Fifth Column" that is probably his most moving work, and (thus?) naturally very hard to see staged.

22 August 2010

Bad reputations

I'm collecting links like a postmodern Collyer brother, so here are some quick hits:

  • To the surprise of no one, Facebook isn't that thrilled about the new movie based on Ben Mezrich's book. (New York Times)
  • In other adaptation news, "The Switch," the romantic comedy based on the Rick Moody Jeffrey Eugenides (see comments) story "The Baster," is tracking dismally and will probably finish 7th this weekend, behind a "Twilight" parody, "Eat Pray Love" and "Piranha 3-D." [Unrelated: I've been spelling 'piranha' wrong all this time?!] Jason Bateman, fire your agent. (Deadline.com)
  • Jodi Picoult should not be startin' somethin' with the aforementioned Times about their rave review of FREEDOM. For one, her reviews in the Times have been complimentary enough; for another, Jennifer Weiner did this routine 6 weeks ago (and not wrongly) abotu Gary Shteyngart. Summer's for reruns? (NY Mag via DRA)
  • Anyway, all the cool kids are already over FREEDOM and looking forward to Tom McCarthy's next book C, out Sept. 7. Here he is on technology, Futurism and James Joyce. (The Guardian)
  • Where did "Chicago" come from? Bookslut-in-Chief Jessa Crispin investigates in the review of a new book called THE GIRLS OF MURDER CITY about the Second City in the 1930s. (The Smart Set)
  • Finally, I walked by a bar on Friday whose awning read "The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous." Is it ever okay to grant a bar the endorsement of someone who eventually died of cirrhosis? Unfortunately, the claim that O. Henry wrote "The Gift of the Magi" in a bar booth in Gramercy Park is dubious and likely unprovable; on the other hand, there was a "Seinfeld" episode shot there. (Petestavern.com; Iamnotastalker.com)

21 August 2010

My Book Report on the Jonathan Franzen TIME Cover Story

First of all, much has been made of the opener to this piece, in which
Franzen is in Santa Cruz watching otters -- "if the otters could
talk," etc. This kind of scene-setting is very common in TIME covers
these days, but of course most of the people reading this story have
given up their subscriptions so they wouldn't be aware.

Somewhere in the feature's doughy middle, writer Lev Grossman (an
author himself) contrasts the "typical" 20th-century novel, in which
the reader endures a degree of difficulty in order to receive a payoff
later, with FREEDOM's suspenseful plot and "characters you care
about." This is a false dichotomy in so many ways, but what I thought
was particularly eye-catching about it was that by this definition the
profile being written is very 20th century. Not that we don't care
about him -- I did -- but the lead photo features him in a dry field
with a pair of binoculars, looking off the page. We endure meaningless
turns like "(FREEDOM) is not a microcosm; it's a cosm" and an
incomplete rundown of the Oprah controversy. The first time Franzen is
quoted in the article he is complaining of FREEDOM: "It was
considerably more difficult. It was a bitch. It really was."

The payoff here, for me, was not only the glimpse into FREEDOM, but
also the detailing of Franzen's weird writing habits. I could have
done without the extraordinarily simplistic "Changing of the Guard"
infographic about where American fiction is Headed Today and I found
the section on Franzen's friendship with David Foster Wallace
(including a terrible photo of both) irreverent in its creepiness, but
I guess that's my own personal degree of difficulty. I think the
combination of TIME house style and outside kerfuffle will (and has)
cause(d) this piece to be held up as an example of How Not To Do It
and might have preferred him to save his one major interview for the
New Yorker or Esquire.

20 August 2010

Spotted in the elevator

I was glad to have a copy of this book to spy on so I didn't have to meet the eyes of the tantrumming girl woman who forgot to push the button for her floor, then decided to angrily jab it 35 times as we ascended past her stop. At one point she backed up a step and I thought she was going to kick the button instead.

"I couldn't hit it because everyone else was in the way," she said to her friend, glaring at me. I'm just trying to ascend and suddenly I'm in a terrible horror movie trailer.

My mom said this Pulitzer Prize winner was so boring she fell asleep while reading it. Multiple times. Has anyone else read it?

19 August 2010

Today I realized my affinity for puns was eventually going to kill me. I have nothing to say for myself.

Your Assistance Please: Heard any good books lately?

It's that time of year again! That time I think about giving audiobooks another try. I feel like I need to put in a lot of caveats here. But I won't count it like I'd count a real book! But I won't stop reading the rest of the time! But I won't do abridged! But I won't like it! I mean, my preference would be to enjoy it in those moments when reading is impractical or dangerous.

I was thinking about this book narrated by Campbell Scott, because Scott has a great voice and I was interested in it anyway. (Also a big audiobook guy: Michael York. Who knew?) Maybe I should pick something longer to get my money's worth. My point is, if you listen to audio books, do you have any readers (or "narrators" in the apparent parlance) to recommend? They don't have to be famous. Or any books in particular? I could use it to go back to books I love and don't have time to re-read... The only thing I really don't want to hear are books about women in peril or serial killers -- nothing where people sneak up on people. (Well, bank robberies are fine.)

18 August 2010

Jezebel comments on what books are most likely to spark conversation on public transit, after a Paris Review blog post on the same topic. (Fourth act of a bad uber-niche romantic comedy: "You used the Paris Review?! This date is over!" etc.) Posting because, while no one actually approached me about either of these books, people on my assorted subway and bus rides were very curious about the covers of recent paperback reads EIGHT MEN OUT and BALL FOUR, almost to the double-taking point. So maybe you should try books with baseball players on the covers? (These were men and women, although men with a slight edge.) My official policy is not to fear CoverSpy; I'm way too well camouflaged for that.

They were looking for a copy of THE METAMORPHOSIS (kaboom!)

The New York Public Library's mid-Manhattan branch either has a small or a big bedbug problem, depending on who you ask. A spokesperson told the Village Voice that they found two bugs, but an anonymous employee reports that they are spot-treating the building, not doing a thorough job. Guess where I just went last week?!

For non-residents, there has been a wave of infestations of commercial buildings recently -- the Time Warner Building in Columbus Circle was hit, as was the giant flagship Hollister, a Victoria's Secret in Harlem, the AMC 25-screen multiplex in Times Square... I personally know two people who have had them this year. Props to Mayor Bloomberg for telling a city councilwoman that "all [his] friends" have them too.

17 August 2010

When a fella could know that his darling had heard every word of his song

Via author Gretchen Rubin on Twitter: 11 movies in which librarians save the day, most of which I haven't seen or heard of but led by "The Music Man," which I have.

"Dragon Tattoo" adaptation sets stars

Onto the next book-turned-movie that's bound to disappoint me: Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara will costar in the forthcoming inevitable American adaptation of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," to begin shooting in Sweden next month. Craig was rumored already and while he's younger than I would have picked for Blomkvist, he's better than previous likely choice Brad Pitt. While not a total unknown, Rooney Mara is unknown to me, and choosing an actress without an iconic role may have been the best way out. Well, we'll see her in "The Social Network" this fall. (I think she's the weird crying girl, but I could be wrong.)

A friend who hasn't read the books asked me what the age difference was between the characters, compared to the actors: Blomkvist is 42 in the first book and Salander is 24, and those are the exact ages of Craig and Mara right now. Now you know! Liam Neeson would have been too old after all.

16 August 2010

From the hypochondria department

The mark of a successful health-related memoir (or, more broadly,
nonfiction title) is that the reader comes away with understanding of
the condition discussed, and empathy for those who have it, without
being convinced she or he also has it. "Made me feel like I was really
there!" is not desirable in this case. Does anyone read DEATH BE NOT
PROUD without being convinced that every headache is a (spoiler)
symptom connected to a brain tumor?

In this arena mental health memoirs definitely have the edge. It
sounds cruel to say that the reaction produced should sound something
like "Wow, that is Not Normal," but such a precaution is necessary in
order not to trivialize the discussion. John Elder Robison's LOOK ME
IN THE EYE, about Asperger's, is a good example.

"I started one interview with Philip Roth for the Paris Review. We had this great long conversation. The next day he called and said he was tired of talking about himself, he just wanted to write. I said, I totally understand, no problem! That's when I realized I was more of a writer than an editor."

--Philip Gourevitch to the Economist on why he walked away from his plum editing job to work on a new book about Rwanda.

15 August 2010

That's it, I'm going full WALDEN and I mean it this time

Today I was going to write a review of a film I unhappily saw this weekend called "Eat, Pray, Love." As I walked out of this movie I said to my compadres, "You know what the worst part of that movie was? As I watched it, I felt... nothing. Just what Elizabeth Gilbert complained of in her first marriage, nothing."

I was wrong on that count. (Spoilers start here.) What I felt, but recognized later, was an overwhelming sense of revulsion towards the commodification of the world in which the character "Liz Gilbert" finds herself. She buys herself a new life for a year and then in every country, she buys more stuff! Like jeans that are too tight because she has been consuming fabulous meals, and statues of Ganesh because it's totally okay to appropriate someone else's religious symbols for yourself, and she buys someone a house because she's just that nice. And we're led to believe that her healing is linked to all this... stuff. She's like one of the bad children in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, only instead of experiencing bodily harm she gets to fly in the great glass elevator with her Brazilian boyfriend, whose suffering seems custom-designed to match her own. She must have filled out the order form for that too!

I think I'm having an allergic reaction to all this. I would not wish this feeling on anyone, but if such description does not suffice, you can feel it for yourself by reading the puff piece about Gilbert's new venture from today's New York Times. She traveled all over the world, and then she came home and opened a STORE. Where people can BUY their souls instead of looking for them. How sweet it is, that her movie deal has allowed her to BUY more stuff and SELL it to others. That the Times doesn't feel the need to call her out on that is, as they say, some bullshit.

Filmbook Verdict: Try to remember what's actually important in your life, because it isn't in either this book or this movie.

14 August 2010

Baseball Week 2: Speaking of Vengeance

Out of all the baseball books I was looking for, THE BASEBALL CODES made it to my local library first, so I started it before any of the other books on this jaunt. I know I mentioned earlier in the week that this was the 'dark side of baseball' tour, but let's review what baseball can't do: It can't unite a city, it can't avoid the tentacles of human greed, it can't save the world from Commies.

THE BASEBALL CODES chronicles the pettiness of Major League Baseball players across a couple of dimensions, from really spectacular fights to etiquette surrounding pitching and sliding. Professional sports looks a lot more exciting than your average cube farm, but the same clash of personalities and agenda-pushing runs rampant there, amplified by the attention every small gesture gets.

What separates acts like players throwing at other players and sign-stealing from outright misbehavior is that, to a certain degree, these behaviors are expected and welcomed, and the victims are expected not to take their grievances to the press. It's been a while since I saw the word "omerta" tossed around so much, and given that certain players in this book are willing to go on record, it's possible that this tradition is peeling away along with the worst on-field deliberate injuries. The crew of Common Sense Dancing recently opined that fighting in professional sports is "stupid and pointless," and I think that's true of some fighting; I prefer the kind that not only does not result in any injury but from the cheap seats plays out in spectacular silent-film pantomine. (Dear David Wright: NEVER CHANGE.)

Authors Turbow and Duca don't limit themselves to punishment and retaliation: One altruistic phenomenon I had not known about was the unspoken respect for players who are about to break a record or reach a career milestone, and how some of their opponents will step lightly or even help them when it's not strategically savvy to do so. This is not how I grew up playing the few sports I did, but again, it's a professional courtesy.

THE BASEBALL CODES reads more like an almanac or one of those treasured collections of related anecdotes I used to read as a kid, that were just long lists of related facts or stories... so it's better to dip into every once in a while than read straight, particularly if (like me) you want to stop and look up players mentioned in the book. This was all somewhat shocking when I started this book, before I had read about Cicotte throwing Game 1 or Jim Bouton getting his spikes nailed to the clubhouse floor. But after all that, it took on a dimension of playground justice, the type of passive-aggressiveness that takes place in every office.

Tomorrow: Odds, ends, miscellany.

13 August 2010

Baseball Week 2: Walking Away With It

Once pitcher Jim Bouton was a rising star drinking with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford after Yankees games. Fast forward the beginning of BALL FOUR, which Bouton dictated during the 1969 season in the year he turned 30. Now a relief pitcher with the Seattle Pilots, Bouton just wants to master his knuckleball, get along with his teammates and most importantly, not get sent down to the minors. His manager delivers not-at-all motivational speeches that end with "and go get a Budweiser"; his coaches throw out arbitrary rules and expect their charges to jump to it; and that's before they've even left Arizona and gone on the road for the long haul.

I was only half-joking yesterday that this is an adventure in one man's mortality. For all the camaraderie of the bullpen and the cogent discussions of how the salary and negotiation processes hurts players, franchises and the game, this is really a book about growing old and not knowing the direction in which one's life should go. Bouton knows he can't be the same pitcher he was at 22 because his fastball takes too much out of his arm, and mastering the knuckleball is his only hope to keep him literally in the game. At the same time, he's seen as a veteran, and his new managers expect him to arrive at the mound ready to save the day. When he can't perform under pressure, his frustration begins with himself. After the Pilots, a team whose fate you should search for since I won't spoil it here, Bouton knows he's due for a re-examination of his career as a player and whether he wouldn't be suited running a business or choosing to coach instead. (He even shares this thought with one of his many road roommates, before the roommate is sent down to the minors.)

How much of this narrative thread is Bouton and how much his ghostwriter/editors' work, I don't know, but I was expecting much more of a scandal sheet than a work of dugout philosophy. (Then again, a review I read mentioned that Bouton's season overlapped with Woodstock and the moon landing -- which is funny, because neither of them are mentioned here. Casualty of edits? They squeezed in a mention of "Midnight Cowboy" though.) I didn't expect this book to resonate with me on such a deep level; I suspect the author would be a little horrified that it did.

I had never heard of Bouton before I picked up BALL FOUR, but a fair amount of ink is spilled in forewords and updates about how controversial the book was for its time (1970). I don't fault the commissioner at the time (the awesomely named Bowie Kuhn) or Bouton's former teammates for being upset with him. That said, the revelations of this book are pretty tame stuff in the age of Brett Favre's Crocs -- some pitchers take speed before games, players talk about their one-night stands on the team bus, harmonious-looking teams can often be anything but friendly when no one's watching. That said, if Bouton were playing and writing this year, it would be an anonymous blog instead of a notebook, and would cause a similar stir. Just because professional athletes can talk to their fans directly doesn't mean most are remotely honest about it. I'd like to think Bouton was honest; I take him at his word.

Tomorrow: all over but the brawlin' with THE BASEBALL CODES.

12 August 2010

Baseball Week 2: City On Fire

As I was advised, Jonathan Mahler's LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING, isn't really a book about baseball. Balancing the 1977 New York Yankees' season against everything else that happened in New York City that year -- a mayoral election year, to begin with -- baseball sometimes gets lost in the mix. Who can worry about whether slugger Reggie Jackson gets along with manager Billy Martin when ConEd spectacularly loses power on one of the hottest nights of the year?

I didn't know much about the Blackout of '77, except as it was unfavorably compared with the Blackout of '03. I didn't know much about a fair amount of the material covered in this book, including the result of that season of Yankees ball (so I'll leave it out in case you also are unaware). Even in limiting himself to one city and one season, Mahler faced a substantial stack of material, and once I approached each few chapters as an invitation to discover more, as a survey course, I got along with this book much better. A chapter on fisticuffs during a Yankees-Sox series in Boston made me want to learn more about that fabled rivalry; a book mentioned by name in a section on the colonization, then commercialization of SoHo will probably join my library queue one day. I'd probably read a book about the blackout if I could find one.

Would I read another book about the '77 Yankees? ...Maybe not. Somehow Jackson's company-provided apartment and car and $7000 fur coat still seem opulent against the bountiful free-agent packages of the 21st century. (His ego, also bountiful on the painting-of-himself-as-a-centaur level. Some things never change!) I was more interested in Billy Martin, who had a better claim to being -- as Jackson called himself -- the "straw that stirs the drink," but didn't draw as much media coverage for Mahler to quote. I was busy rooting for the city; the team was secondary. Go into it with those expectations and '70sphiles and New York history nerds will have a really great time.

(In case you're planning a friendly neighborhood blackout, remember these things! First, being able to call up off-duty cops means nothing if they don't actually get to the affected sites; second, any error in urban emergency plans will be magnified a thousandfold in case of actual emergency. And third, don't allow one dude picking up an extra shift to be in control of the ENTIRE GRID, in case that dude decides to, oops, just SIT THERE till the lines are completely fried. Okay, off to buttonhole strangers on the street about this Amazing New Story.)

Tomorrow: Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR, a rollicking tale of one man's mortality.

Holy what?

I have a lot of feelings about this cover. But mostly I feel irritated that people keep writing about how great this book is when it's not out for two and a half more weeks are you kidding me. Ma, everyone else got a review copy first!

11 August 2010

Oooh! McNally Jackson Books in New York is getting an Espresso Book Machine by the end of this year.

Filmbook: "Eight Men Out" (1988)

Aiee... Hollywood. It could have been much worse for EIGHT MEN OUT than John Sayles' adaptation, which is remarkably faithful to the book until the last half-hour when it does some truly impressive acrobatics and basically invents its own ending. Maybe it was too faithful up to that point, which would explain why it was so flat.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to see some of the characteristics I disliked in Asinof's book exaggerated for the film audience. Buck Weaver isn't just "the All-American boy," he makes impassioned speeches at the drop of a hat! (Including robbing David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte of a chance to do his own speechifying, and that should be illegal.) Michael Mantell's Abe Attell isn't just a shady character, he needs to narrow his eyes all the time and speak in a creepy Spot-Conlon-from-Brooklyn* monotone. And the whole thing is scored in phony Jazz Age music, just in case we forget that it's The Past. I don't even want to know the direction given to D.B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe, who plays Jackson as not so much illiterate as prone to prolonged blank stares -- "head injury patient," I guess.

There are some neat moments in this film; I appreciated John Mahoney as Kid Gleason, the Sox manager who can't explain why his team is falling to pieces around him, and Kevin Tighe is precisely slippery as "Sport" Sullivan, one of the gamblers involved in the fix. There's a great (albeit brief) scene with John Anderson as Kenesaw Mountain Landis that I didn't remember from the book. But this movie just doesn't execute the way it should. Sayles' reliance on devices like the "montage of newspaper headlines" and the "little kids with no connection to the plot, but useful receptacles for speechifying" got old. Casting himself as Ring Lardner did little to convince me of his earnestness towards the plot.

Tomorrow: Putting out the fire with gasoline and Jonathan Mahler's LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING.

*"Well I say... that what you say... is what I say." Anyone?

10 August 2010

Baseball Week 2: So This One Time Papa And I...

Ernest Hemingway makes an appearance at the beginning of Philip Roth's THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, as the force driving an embittered sportswriter to write his magnum opus instead of succumbing to the siren song of old age and whining. Smitty's got a compelling story: His career was ruined when baseball's 'third' league, the Patriot League, was buried amid rumors of Communist infiltration during World War II. Decades later, his vote for Patriot League star Luke Gofannon for the Baseball Hall of Fame goes uncounted, and Smitty's acres of prose have similarly been forgotten. Isn't it shameful what happened to the Patriot League and the scrappy bottom-of-the-division Ruppert Mundys of Port Ruppert, New Jersey? who nearly made a miraculous comeback during their all-away-games season of 1943?

Beyond just the zaniest Philip Roth novel I've never read, this may be the most bonkers book I will have read all year. From introducing characters named Base Baal (who, it is noted, was not named after the sport, but rather for his bad behavior) and Gil Gamesh to a subplot involving the Mundys' good-natured manager acting as a baseball missionary in Africa, there is no silliness left unturned here, with Smitty's bombastic opinions (including the stance that alliteration is what makes writing great) woven through. The descriptions of the lineup alone had me giggling softly to myself on many a subway ride -- apparently some of them are based on real players, though I couldn't find a definite concordance.

I'm not shocked that it's not canon Roth, but why had I never heard of this book before coming across it by chance while searching for a copy of THE GHOST WRITER last summer? I would recommend this book over the overrated THE NATURAL six days out of seven. I found a USA Today article describing it as one of Roth's "least known works," which is what happens when you have a career as long and varied as he has had. Still, it was jarring to see some of the same themes in his late great THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, here treated for humor -- jarring in the opposite way I would have expected: I found the later work a little less profound for the capers to which it is applied here. When did Philip Roth become... so serious? I'm sure I am the last person to notice, but as someone who didn't really find any humor in PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, I conveniently forget or elided that phase. It's a shame! And if you feel like this, you should definitely read this book in haste.

Tomorrow: John Sayles' 1988 adaptation of "Eight Men Out," starring pretty much every character actor who could be spared to put on a uniform. Also, John Cusack!

New rule

If you come out with the best album of the year, you are allowed one extremely obvious T.S. Eliot reference in your lyrics. Just ONE though, and if this album is dethroned, that judgment could be overturned as well.

09 August 2010

Baseball Week 2: Say It Ain't So, Eddie

If Eliot Asinof couldn't do it, I doubt anyone could. The author's account of the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal is so meticulous, it sometimes seems as if Asinof had been pressed up against the players' hotel room doors with a glass in his hand, eavesdropping on their conversations -- untrue in any sense, since EIGHT MEN OUT was published over 40 years after the series in question. He sifts through contemporary news stories and columns and court transcripts galore, but he can't tell us why eight members of the Chicago White Sox would decide to throw the World Series, believe they could get away with it, and (to a certain extent) go on with their lives.

There are a lot of unbelievable facets to the Black Sox scandal, and I don't really want to spoil them for anyone who, like me, may be going into this book with only a vague outline of the scandal. But here is your vague outline: Eight players on the White Sox, gathered by first baseman Chick Gandil (whose Wikipedia picture could not be less flattering), made an agreement with a gambler, a former boxer and a gangster -- with their innumerable intermediaries, anyway -- to throw the Series against the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000. The gamblers bet against the Sox (favored to win) and make oodles of money. Everybody wins until American League president Ban Johnson seizes an opportunity to humiliate the White Sox owner and promote himself as anti-gambling and decides to investigate the rumors that had swirled around the previous year's series.

Johnson didn' really get what he wanted from the revelation of the scandal, nor did gambling in baseball end. The fans didn't really get justice, even though the players involved were famously banned from baseball for the rest of their lives. (Perhaps an over-punishment for Buck Weaver? Hold that thought for a minute.) As reprehensible as what the players did was, justice wasn't served.

Getting back to the why: Gandil was the fixer, but Cicotte -- the only player smart enough to insist on being paid up front -- seemed like the linchpin. In some ways, he's the most tragic figure of the book, or at least that's how Asinof chose to see it. Cicotte's testimony is heartbreaking and disingenuous at the same time. I wanted to believe him, but given how he and his teammates were treated it's hard to know how much he really revealed under oath. (Being told they're signing a document protecting their immunity, when it actually waives their immunity?) If I had a problem with Asinof's account it was in his characterization of some of the players, about which I had similar reservations as with Cicotte's own words: Shoeless Joe is altogether too stupid to know what's going on, depending on his wife to read his contracts, and Buck Weaver is too "All-American" to cheat (but not too much to be in on the fix?) and bewildered when he's forced to share the fate of his fellows. Maybe those didn't seem too general so much as undersourced.

Of course I realized only too late that EIGHT MEN OUT is not the right book with which to kick off a whole week of books about baseball, in that it shows the dark side of the sport. A theme that will carry on throughout the week? Perhaps!

Tomorrow: You may be part of the conspiracy too with Philip Roth's THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL.

08 August 2010

"Writing the books – as opposed to flamming up the sales figures to flatter the subjects – was actually a job I rather relished. My research was painstaking, bordering on stalker-ish, as well as long-winded, since Google's founders were about 12 at the time. By way of example, I once drove from London to Blackpool and back to check one Cleese fact. And I went to Los Angeles for each book because there were better press clippings libraries there."
--Jonathan Margolis used to write unauthorized celebrity biographies, and now he feels sorry. And the reason, should you bother to read the whole essay, is that his wife's sister who used to be in a band I've never heard of just wrote an autobiography and now he's all hurt that she put in some stuff about his wife that wasn't true. Which is just like being Angelina Jolie! Maybe someone will write an unauthorized bio about Margolis for being the owner of the world's tiniest violin.

07 August 2010

Alternate Titles For The Movie "Eat Pray Love" As Determined By Its Ad Campaigns And Media Coverage

"See Julia Roberts Eat Something"
"Acme Hollywood Lady Movie"
"'Real Simple' Magazine, But Live"
"Julia Roberts Ate Pizza For This Movie"
"Something For The Ladies While 'The Expendables' Is Out"
"You Think Your Life Is Pretty Comfortable, But You Have No Idea"
"Make Sure To Buy The Perfume Tie-In"
"Minimalism Costs Money"
"Julia Roberts, Briefly Fat"
"The Thinking Movie, Unlike All The Other Ones"
"'Glee' Is Somehow Involved In This So Let's Talk About That"
"If You Didn't Read This Book Yet You Are Probably A Communist"
"Not Starring Mickey Rourke"
"Don't You Get It, Julia Roberts Gained 7 To 10 Pounds For Your Sins, Sad Unenlightened Americans"
"Hey, Did We Mention James Franco Is In This Movie? What Is It With That Guy?"

06 August 2010

What they were reading at the NYC DMV

I only saw two people with books, and they were THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK (the first Nancy Drew mystery) and THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION. Conclusions?! I have none. I personally brought two books and a magazine, which luckily turned out to be overpacking.

05 August 2010

Your e-books are not welcome in my establishment

Oh come on, there's got to be a better way to get coffee-shop parkers to move along than tell them they can't use their Kindles and iPads. Your friendly neighborhood table hog comes in a lot of forms, and speaking as someone who has taken up valuable espresso real estate without the help of a computer or even a book, I don't see that this will do anything but annoy the few. (Disclaimer, as a Kindle owner I am clearly biased, but to be fair this has never happened to me.)

One potential solution, if there aren't enough tables to go around, is put in a communal table where loners can all sit together and do whatever it is they have come to the coffee shop to do. It will likely self-select to people who don't mind sharing, and one disruptive person will fall under the influence of everyone else.

By the way, the original author of the Times post on this phenomenon, Nick Bilton, doesn't name the shops that chased him out, but the Brooklyn sandwich shop he mentions is 'Snice in Park Slope. (I'm positive; I was in there a few days ago and remember the signs. I mean, I like Georgia font too, but really.)

04 August 2010

Jennifer Belle's funny PR gambit worked for me

"When they said that the future was the internet, I felt like going back to the past," says the author who recently hired actresses to read her new book THE SEVEN YEAR BITCH and laugh out loud in public. Know why I LOVE this idea? Not just because she took matters into her own hands, but also because I can't remember the last time I witnessed someone reading a book and laughing out loud. I mean, I can't do it all the time, someone has to cover for me. (Via The Second Pass)

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

--Matthew Arnold (and in case you can't deal, please accept this retort)

03 August 2010

For Sale, One Bookstore

Bit shopworn. A sale is just one of "several options" that Barnes & Noble's board is "evaluating" to make its shareholders less angry, another of which is getting rid of some of its locations according to Business Insider. CNBC named Microsoft as a potential buyer, says The Street -- really? In my unprofessional opinion, unlikely. Meanwhile, the New York Times went with the headline "Barnes & Noble Considers Selling Itself," and the resulting jokes are predictable.
"You're not the first writer to go a little batty when faced with a bad review, and I'm doubting you will be the last."

--Jessa Crispin, responding to a private e-mail asking that her site print a "revised review" of a work that received a negative evaluation.

02 August 2010

New York Magazine has a big feature on independent bookstores this week, comparing new neighborhood shops springing up to the local food movement. Booksellers get to plump up their new titles for fall, and famous authors pick their favorite stores, in which I learn that Colum McCann loves the Village, Sam Lipsyte and I share a backyard and that Nathaniel Rich's fantasies are full of beautiful people wearing glasses.

01 August 2010

Park reading can breathe for the first time

Park: Bryant Park
Notes: New York's fever finally broke this weekend, so I spent most of Saturday and some of Sunday outside. I haven't appreciated Bryant Park recently; if I'm in the neighborhood I'm usually rushing through it, to somewhere else. Added to the Bryant Park Grill there is now a second bar, the Southwest Porch (inexplicably run sponsored [see correction] by Southwest Airlines ) where you can get a not-overpriced-given-the-neighborhood beer and sit on a swing, and keep reading until that errand you vaguely remember wanting to get done pops up in your mind, and then you go.

I could just stay home to read, but there's something clubby and comforting about being around a lot of people in their own solitudes. It's like going to your college library early in the morning and hearing pages ruffle from a few cubes down. It reassures you that you're doing the right thing. I thought to compare Bryant Park to my big-city backyard, but when I visit my parents I don't sit in the backyard reading because no one else will be out there. I'll read where everyone else is. If I went to the public park in my small town, I might see another loner like myself out reading with a tote bag... but probably not. She'd be at her complex's pool, or on her balcony. I don't have either of those, but I have Bryant Park.

Correction: According to a commenter the Southwest Porch is run by the Bryant Park corporation and 'Wichcraft, although maybe they could make that a little clearer on their site. Still, if Southwest would be going into the concessions business, they picked the right partners.

Photo: sketchyrecord