31 October 2010

Unbookening Returns From Its Jaunt In The Wilderness

Bought 2 books
Checked 8 books out of the library
Got 9 books to review

Gave away 15 books
Returned 15 books to the library
Gave one to my mom

(If you're new: What is unbookening?)

I assumed when I started tracking the books that were flowing in and out of my life, that I would get to a magical status point in which I would not buy too many books, nor would I get too many. For a lot of reasons, that has not happened. There is an obvious metaphor I could make here but I won't.

Nevertheless, I should start publishing this list again. I think it really does make me consider whether I need that $1 used book sale in my life (more than just to look, anyway), and I am probably moving house next year, so the fewer the better. I'm not going to get all ambitious and claim I'm good at getting rid of books I don't need, I still think there are far worse vices.

For one thing, I tried this a few weeks ago and nothing came of it, but I think I will make a better effort to borrow books from friends before buying them. I know a fair amount of bibliophiles (local and far-flung-but-will-mail) and as long as they don't mind, maybe we can help each other, especially when it comes to classics. This is a fine idea unless you are stubborn and don't like asking for help even when you need it. Lord knows we don't know anyone like that around here.

30 October 2010

From Ireland to BROOKLYN

It's hard to describe a book as a "book club book" without it being interpreted as a slight in some way. Colm Tóibín's BROOKLYN struck me as a good book for a group discussion because my reaction to its ending ranged from "What the..." to "No wait, this is perfect," and I couldn't decide what side I was on.

The book transports the young Eilis Lacey from Ireland to Brooklyn in the middle of last century in search of a job, a diaspora I frankly hadn't been all that aware of despite being a little Irish. (Eilis herself is a little lost to world events, given her befuddlement when a bookseller refers to the fact that her Jewish professor, who has sent Eilis for some study aids, lost his whole family in World War II. "Why would anyone want to kill that man?" he asks.) Stepping out from under the shadow of her confident sister Rose, Eilis follows her brothers into emigration for work, then as BROOKLYN continues becomes a figure of self-actualization more than a journey narrative.

Despite the 50-to-60-year difference between us, Eilis' life isn't all that different from mine: She lives with roommates, goes to work every day in a job that she hopes will lead to the job she really wants (as a bookkeeper for the department store where she's a clerk), worries about her mother without having much influence over her. The major difference between us is the number of parental figures who govern her life: The local priest, who first found her the job, keeps tabs on her even at social dances, her supervisor at the store tries to give her clothing advice, and her nosy live-in landlord Mrs. Kehoe makes cutting comments about her every move. Her first radical act of separation from them is dating a boy who is (horrors!) not Irish, but Bay Ridge Italian, a fact she even has to hide from her judgy roommates.

That amount of social protection seems like overkill for Eilis, a serious and quiet girl, until the end of BROOKLYN when she finds herself without those safeguards. No spoilers, but I was surprised by the way she acted in a couple of instances. Not that Tóibín is suggesting that that para-parental haze was good for her, but... maybe it wasn't bad, necessarily? Those figures (Father Flood, Mrs. Kehoe, etc.) have much more influence on her than her own mother, who is both a tragic and infuriating figure; that struck me as strangely modern as well. The book challenged my expectations as historical fiction per se, but I don't know if that's because of the ending (again... no spoilers), or because I could so easily picture the store she was walking to, or that the white immigrant American experience is so often framed as a 19th century tale with an early happy ending.

29 October 2010

Reading on the Road: The Ma, I'm on TV edition

Watch out D.C.! This weekend Regular Commenter Elizabeth and I are going to the Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear.

I'm lugging Josh Karlen's LOST LUSTRE and Henry James' THE AMBASSADORS with me, and if I finish those I'm going to start Joanna Smith Rakoff's A FORTUNATE AGE, which I have wanted to read since seeing her at the Brooklyn Book Festival.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez has a new book out (a collection of speeches called I DIDN'T COME TO GIVE A SPEECH) and is finishing a new novel. Yes!!! He totally couldn't stay away!

28 October 2010

When you find a stranger in the alps

It's cool, I'll just reinstitute my book ban after I buy this.

27 October 2010

Arundhati Roy may be arrested in India for speaking out in favor of Kashmiri independence.
I went to see "Easy A" last weekend and movie wasteland or no movie wasteland I enjoyed it more than I expected.

A tidbit for the reading-oriented: The plot is a retelling or reframing of THE SCARLET LETTER -- the Hester Prynne figure being Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone), whose opening transgression is telling her best friend she slept with a (fictional) date. Olive's class in school is reading THE SCARLET LETTER and there's a running joke about her fellow students watching the movie instead of reading the book. Olive jokes to the camera that if viewers are not going to read the book they should rent "the old version" -- I think the 1926 Lillian Gish version, judging by clips we see in "Easy A" -- and not the Demi Moore adaptation because it deviates too much from the book. Later, her English teacher (Thomas Haden Church, who is very funny and underused) jokes about the number of papers he's getting about how Hester Prynne takes a lot of baths -- apparently a feature of the Moore version (really?), although he knows and gets Olive to admit that she actually read the book.

I haven't seen the 1995 Roland Joffé version they're talking about, but I knew it won a couple of Razzies and, given that I wasn't suggested or made to watch it when we studied THE SCARLET LETTER, suspected it might not be of the best caliber. There's also a case file on it in Nathan Rabin's new book MY YEAR OF FLOPS (if I may so shamelessly plug) in which he calls it a "beautiful, idiotic dream" and writes, "It seems apt that a novel about infidelity should inspire one of the least faithful literary adaptations in American film."

You'd think high school cheating would have evolved by now from the hoary days of my youth. (The popularity of Cliff's Notes, for example, given how obvious they look, has been always a mystery to me... as the sort of smug A student who would never use them.) At the rate of adaptation we're on today, English teachers of the future should hope every movie made from a book for the next 30 years is unfaithful enough to prompt such blunders as Olive's classmates are prone. But that's a terrifying future; in adaptation I always hope, as this blog's string of disappointed movie reviews can testify. It won't stop the cheaters anyway; they'll only find another workaround.

26 October 2010

Mark Zuckerberg: Possesed of a sense of humor?

On "The Social Network" to Business Insider:

"Every single shirt or fleece that I had in the movie was a shirt or fleece that I own."

I think his criticism is flawed, but still: points.

Justin Bieber dramatic reading

That's Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent, who you might remember opposite Julie Christie in 2007's "Away From Her," stepping into a Canadian comedy show called "This Hour Has 22 Minutes." Let it also be noted that Bieber's memoir's full title is JUSTIN BIEBER: FIRST STEP 2 FOREVER: MY STORY. Two colons. Good lord.

Dedicated to Coworker Grace, whose relationship with Mr. Bieber is... complicated.

25 October 2010


Thanks, NY1, for scaring the bejesus out of me when on a routine coffee break I heard "author of BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES." But it is not Tom Wolfe whom we celebrate but Burton Roberts, a former judge in the Bronx who was the inspiration for Myron Kovitsky. (Or, Morgan Freeman in the movie version.) A World War II vet who attended NYU and Cornell, Roberts was also one of the defense lawyers in the Amadou Diallo case, that's right, defense.

Jhumpa Lahiri's next project

I could probably do a Things I Learned on Twitter every day (see: yesterday), but here's today's: Via Todd VanDerWerff, author Jhumpa Lahiri (THE NAMESAKE, UNACCUSTOMED EARTH) is a story consultant on this season of HBO's therapist series "In Treatment."

According to the Boston Globe, she is consulting on the episodes featuring Irrfan Khan (who appeared in the Mira Nair adaptation of "The Namesake" as Gogol's father, and was the police inspector in "Slumdog Millionaire") playing "a recent widower who has just moved to New York from India after being forced to retire... liv[ing] unhappily with his Americanized son and his American daughter-in-law." Definitely Lahiri territory. I don't have HBO, but if you do, you should tune in for that.

No, seriously, you're all fired.

No one saw fit to tell me Garrison Keillor has a daily podcast where he talks about writers' birthdays and reads poetry? On the bright side, I have a new great way to start my work day.

24 October 2010

What Sarah Palin makes in her speeches?

NEWSFLASH: Kanye West just admitted on Twitter to getting mixed up
about his "double en-tundras." This delights me almost as much as when
people misspell "voila" and end their sentences with, "Stringed
instrument tuned a fifth lower than the violin!"
Takahashi continues: "So after Ryan O'Neal has slaved away to become a lawyer, they never give the audience any idea what kind of work he does. All we know is he joins this top law firm and pulls in a salary that would make anyone envious. He lives in a fancy Manhattan high-rise with a doorman out front, joins a WASP sports club, and plays squash with his yuppie friends. That's all we know."
Takahashi drinks his water.
"So what happens after that?" Mari asks.
Takahashi looks upward, recalling the plot. "Happy ending. The two live happily ever after. Love conquers all. It's like: we used to be miserable, but now everything's great. They drive a shiny new Jaguar, he plays squash, and sometimes in winter they throw snowballs. Meanwhile, the father who disowned Ryan O'Neal comes down with diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and Meniere's disease and dies a lonely, miserable death."
"I don't get it. What's so good about a story like that?"
Takahashi cocks his head. "Hmm, what did I like about it? I can't remember. I had stuff to do, so I didn't watch the last part very closely."

--Haruki Murakami, AFTER DARK

23 October 2010

Adam Levin's rule for writing

Chicagoist: What’s one thing about writing that’s really impossible to teach?
Adam Levin: How to sit well. I get these killer students, these talented, hardworking, every-teacher's-dream-type students, and I go, "Write perfect sentences over and over until you arrive at a story," and they do it. I tell them, "Never be boring," and they cease to ever be boring. But then I'll say, "Hey, my back hurts really badly and it's probably gonna hurt for the rest of my life because during the first ten-or-so years that I devoted to writing fiction, I sat all hunched over the keyboard for hours on end every day, so please don't sit like that, okay? Make yourself sit up straight when you work or, at the very least, get up and stretch every twenty minutes," and they give me this look like, "Stretch? What are a stretch?"

22 October 2010

Blind item

What memoirist am I unable to stop hate-reading because his lack of self-awareness is totally astounding? (Not the one who was recently profiled in the New York Times. That profile actually made me like him a lot more.)

21 October 2010

A special invitation

I am the Questionmaster so if you need me I will be biting my fingernails in the corner. Dare I hope for a special appearance?

Here's a live link to the chat.

New York: The Bookslut Is Here

Well, she's been here for a few days anyway, but Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut.com, is speaking at Melville House in Brooklyn tonight at 7.

If I had to make a list of top 5 inspirations for me to start this blog, she and now the Bookslut empire would be on it for sure. One of the things I enjoyed the most about her blog was how vehemently she disagreed with the other sources of literary news I was reading at the time. When I started a blog I didn't really think in terms of voice or perspective, and to find someone who had such a clearly defined voice was instrumental. I realize there are many litbloggers who also excel in this arena, and that is why we love them, but she's the first one I found.

(All this from my forthcoming book, THE INTERNET USED TO BE BETTER/ GET OFF MY LAWN.) 
An independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard Book Store (not to be confused with Harvard's official bookstore the Coop), is following in McNally Jackson's footsteps and offering delivery-by-bike to customers in the neighborhood. Cambridge, Somerville and Allston get same- or next-day delivery. I got my copy of DEMONOLOGY there! In case you need a suggestion of what to order.
(Via Galleycat.)

20 October 2010

By my totes shall ye know me

New Yorkers, Greenlight Bookstore (beloved of me) has gotten itself a store tote bag, which to me says two things: One, the bookstore is doing well enough to warrant it; and second, you need this accessory. I personally "only" have 2 other bookstore tote bags in the rotation, so I'm due.

Tom Sawyer would be proud

The first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography is slugging it out for the top spot on Amazon's preorders list with two kids' series juggernauts, Rick Riordan's THE LOST HERO (he wrote the PERCY JACKSON books that were made into a movie in February) and the latest DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. I think a fake funeral is in order.

19 October 2010

If you know aught of Wolfe or Kesey, you know I was in California over the weekend (well, tumbled off the plane yesterday morning). I thought about writing a Reading On The Road post, as I do, but I wasn't sure how much I would get read if anything. I was still vacillating half an hour before I had to be at JFK, which is uncharacteristically indecisive even for me.

On the flight out I was unseasonably plowing through Ian Frazier's TRAVELS IN SIBERIA. The in-flight TV system was broken and repeating a 40-minute loop of promotional clips of Broadway shows, shopping, actors from "Fringe" being interviewed. The man next to me hadn't brought anything to do, and about two hours in he pressed the call button and complained to the flight attendant, "Can you do something about this? It keeps repeating. I'm beginning to get irritated." The world's tallest, baldingest 5-year-old.

On the flight back I didn't sleep much but I read most of John L. Parker's ONCE A RUNNER, which I picked up on a whim at the Strand a few weeks ago. It's sort of like a FOUNTAINHEAD set in college track and/but (depending on your view of THE FOUNTAINHEAD) it improved as it went along.

18 October 2010

Nudge, nudge

I'm over at the A.V. Club this week talking about THE INTUITIONIST.

Got laureate?

W.S. Merwin is speaking at the New York Public Library on Friday. If you don't like that, they're bringing Edwidge Danticat and Zadie Smith soon (and Jay-Z! Although that was only in one of their e-mail blasts months ago, and I foolishly hit REPLY and accosted some poor intern about why it wasn't on the event page. Sorry intern!).

17 October 2010

Who else had major travel lust after reading the Times books essay "Read My Book? Tour My House"? I felt so lazy -- I haven't even sought out Whitman's place in Brooklyn Heights, let alone his house in Camden! Let's all go sleep over in Agatha Christie's house!

Well, let's not. But here's my contribution: We didn't stop in but this weekend I drove past the former site of the cottage where Ken Kesey wrote ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, also appearing in Tom Wolfe's THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. (A few of them are still standing, although I believe Kesey's is not.) Have you ever gone out of your way to see a writer's house or landmark? One I've never been to but am dying to visit is Edith Wharton's mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts -- maybe next spring.

16 October 2010

National Book Award notes

I've had a couple of days to see what People On The Internet are saying about the NBA nominees, and I would like to append these conclusions to my original post:

1. The biggest surprise of the list according to People On The Internet was that Jonathan Franzen didn't receive a nomination for FREEDOM. Professionally, for him, it may be kind of a bummer, but I can buy that the committee wanted to go the undiscovered/hidden-treasure route with their picks, and I wouldn't criticize them for doing so. Sure, it would be a big feather in Franzen's cap, but he's already got a best-seller... and "Oprah"... and the Pulitzers... and the NBCC... and all the year-end lists. I'm interested in finding out more about these authors the committee deemed worthy of praise.

OR it could just be backlash because the NBA nominating committee consists of fiction writers who are all SUPER JEALOUS. Take your pick.

2. I expressed my surprise that Patti Smith had scored a nomination for her memoir JUST KIDS, and I should have clarified that I was surprised in a pleasant way: While I haven't gotten around to reading it, I hear great things and having seen her in concert, the woman is a force. If I had dug a little deeper in the nonfiction category, however, I would have discovered this Not Your Mother's National Book Award nominee sooner. Meet SECRET HISTORIAN: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAMUEL STEWARD, PROFESSOR, TATTOO ARTIST AND SEXUAL RENEGADE, by art historian Justin Spring. Now that I have your full attention, Steward was an English teacher, turned novelist (after being fired for one of his scandalous novels), turned pal of Gertrude and Alice's, turned tattoo artist, turned researcher for Kinsey going into the gay scene where he wasn't welcome. Whatta life! You almost want to read the book just to find out why you might have gone all your life without hearing of him.

Do you have any stray opinions about the awards? Does book award season bore you completely?

15 October 2010

November 20 marks the hundredth anniversary of Leo Tolstoy's death (which sounds quite dramatic!). What is Russia doing for it? Nothing. The estate is doing a little, but feels that the government could and should be doing more. What am I doing for it? Uh, vodka party, anyone?

14 October 2010

My picks for the Boston Book Festival

Boston is a city I love and Saturday's book fest kicks ass -- I'm sorry to miss it. (Maybe next year?) If you're in the neighborhood, here's what I would definitely not miss:

  • "First Time's A Charm," 10AM -- Justin Cronin (THE PASSAGE), Joshua Ferris and Jennifer Haigh (THE CONDITION) on life after winning a major award. Hubris city?
  • "Pop Culture," 12PM -- Embarrassingly general title, but the prospect of David Rakoff and getting to hear Chip Kidd speak again is a major draw.
  • "From Page to Screen," 1:30PM -- Dennis Lehane, A.M. Homes and Tom Perrotta on their movie adaptations (if you will... their filmbooks). Perrotta and Lehane have worked on the screenplays of some of their projects, but if I remember correctly Homes wasn't involved at all with hers, though she wrote for "The L Word" for two seasons. (Kind of shocked that trivium stuck to me, but anyway.) Hoping Perrotta drops hints about his next book (2007's THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER was a little disappointing).
  • "Home & Away," 3PM -- Bill Bryson and some other dude. I mean, does it matter?

Here's the full list in case you don't trust my judgment (but I urge you do).

13 October 2010

My preorder box is burning

Great news for "Mad Men" fans: Grove/Atlantic will issue a hardcover of STERLING'S GOLD, the autobiography fictional ad man Roger Sterling has been working on all season. But can they get John Slattery to do the audio book?

National Book Award finalists announced

Stay tuned for the big upset.

Peter Carey, PARROTT & OLIVIER IN AMERICA (read it, liked it!)
Nicole Krauss, GREAT HOUSE (hear good things)
Lionel Shriver, SO MUCH FOR THAT (hear good things, like the author)
Jaimy Gordon, LORD OF MISRULE (never heard of it
Karen Tei Yamashita, I HOTEL (never heard of it)

Barbara Demick, NOTHING TO ENVY: ORDINARY LIVES IN NORTH KOREA (never heard of it)
John W. Dower, CULTURES OF WAR: PEARL HARBOR, HIROSHIMA, 9-11, IRAQ (never heard of it)
Patti Smith, JUST KIDS (what!!!!!)

The ceremony's November 17th and Tom Wolfe will be getting a special achievement award. Check out the website if you want to read up on the finalists and the poetry/YA categories.

Filmbook: Destroying tomorrow's GATSBY remake, today

Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway? I THINK NOT. Other terrible casting suggestions made in this post: Brad Pitt or Chris Pine (seriously???) as Gatsby and Natalie Portman or Nicole Kidman as Daisy. This is some sort of plot, right?

12 October 2010

Howard Jacobson's THE FINKLER QUESTION, out in the U.S. today, has won the 2010 Man Booker Prize. Given that there are already 49 holds on it from the NY Public Library, someone guessed this one right.
This week's New Yorker cover is killer. (Roz Chast of course)

11 October 2010

Luckily, it was paperback

Someone threw a book at President Obama at a rally in Philadelphia yesterday. Really?? Sadly, no one seems to know what book it was, so the gesture is kind of lost. The thrower apparently told the Secret Service he had written it and was throwing it so the President would catch it with his face read it.
Relevant to my interests.

Somebody get me this book!

"That summer, he abandoned the science-fiction novel he’d been working on and started what became Gawker Media."-- from the New Yorker profile of Nick Denton
Here's a cool twist on the best-of list: The Los Angeles Times finds the 10 best "best-of" collections from this year. Especially looking forward to the 2010 edition of NONREQUIRED READING.

10 October 2010

The Harper Perennial book about literary tattoos I wrote about last summer is coming out this week! It's called THE WORD MADE FLESH and its accompanying (some images NSFW) blog is providing me a much needed image break after staring at THE INSTRUCTIONS all weekend. (That's right. I have run straight out of words. I fear for the future.)

09 October 2010


  • Not only is there potentially a fourth Stieg Larsson book, his dad is now claiming there is a fifth which he wrote before #4 because it "was more fun to write." (L.A. Times)
  • "The Kindle changed my reading habits, because I now buy books pretty much only when I’m drunk, and late at night." Elif Batuman sounds like she'd be fun to hang out with. (Boston Globe via Peter W. Knox)
  • Forgive me if you all knew that Keith Olbermann is a huge James Thurber fan who reads his short stories out loud on his show. I just found out this week, perils of the cableless. (GalleyCat)
  • Literary betting news! Britons can no longer bet on the Booker Prize after a suspiciously large amount of money was placed on only slightly tarnished star Tom McCarthy. (Guardian)
  • "Discussed: Comical Hats, Tertiary Characters, Conan the Barbarian, The Dark One, Typologies Within Typologies, Moral Predicaments, Braid-Yanking, Rhapsodies Over Brocaded Silk, Arcane Metaphysical Theology, Clark Gable." Name that fantasy author! (The Believer)
  • This SPOILERY review of "The Social Network" is probably my favorite which I also disagree with. It's an art. (The New Republic).
  • "It was a great way of getting out of the house, of not being stuck alone in my room all day, and, as I have Lonoff say in THE GHOST WRITER, I got to use a public urinal — that was a breakthrough — and also I got to read a lot." Yeah, Philip Roth, it sounds like you really got a lot out of teaching. Any of his former UPenn students wish to speak to that experience? (Esquire)

07 October 2010

Filmbook: "The Social Network" (2010)

The most interesting tidbit I read around the David Fincher-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted adaptation of Ben Mezrich's 2009 book THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES was that Fincher and Sorkin were not regular Facebook users. This can no longer be excused by their generation, considering that it's the most popular social networking site among the 46 percent of boomers who use such sites (source: Mashable). Possibly they choose not to use it so they can actually get things done, things like directing Oscar-winning movies and writing critically acclaimed if canceled TV shows. (Jesse Eisenberg also said in an interview he doesn't use it. Jesse, your pants are on fire.)

Armed with that information I went into "The Social Network" fearing it would be at best a little off-base about the role of Facebook in the lives of its users, and at worst hilariously off-base in the TV docu-drama format. ("Are your children Facebooking? Right now??!??!") In the end, Sorkin and Fincher played to their relative strengths and made a movie about primarily the man, and to a lesser extent the men, involved in the creation of Facebook. Still, in the final scene, which I will not spoil, there's a snapshot of the user experience which you'll either find embarrassingly on the nose, or perfect. I thought it was perfect.

It's too early to tell, and I won't venture to guess, whether "The Social Network" is the best movie of the year. But there's something so exciting about seeing a movie that spools out in your (my) lifetime, in your (my) common environment. I didn't go to Harvard but I was hanging out there, and in places like that, at the time Zuckerberg was dropping out and moving to Silicon Valley. A special correspondent to this blog reminded me that I was the one who got him to join Facebook when we got it on our campus. (Six years later, still signing up for new blinky things! And proselytizing!) I kept thinking of the first line of Bret Easton Ellis's recent novel IMPERIAL BEDROOMS: "They made a movie about us."

And after all the rumors that "The Social Network" was a complete takedown of its boy-wonder CEO, I was surprised to find that as unethical and potentially thieving and shifty as I found Zuckerberg (in Eisenberg's portrayal), I was coming around to identifying with his fictional portrayal in all his status-obsessed feverish all-nighter carelessness. Granted, Sorkin had two characters at his disposal that would be too implausible if they weren't already real in "the Winklevi" -- the snotty tall WASPY crew team members accustomed to throwing their weight around -- who were easy to vilify. But it becomes a very complex portrait. It made me think, and that alone, I am sorry to say, boots it to the top drawer of movies I'll see this year.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as frustrated as the factual inconsistencies between the real story and the book AND movie as the rest of the world, but I was still thoroughly entertained by this movie. I thought the acting was much stronger than I had been led to believe, particularly Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg's best friend and original business partner Eduardo Saverin (whose interviews formed the core of Mezrich's book, which calls his portrait into question... rabbit hole approaching...).
In fact over the end credits I found myself actively wishing it were a little longer and covered a little more history.

"The Social Network" is more of a movie than what I expected, whereas
THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES is just about the book I expected it to be, but really no better. If Mezrich (of BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE fame) hadn't gotten to this material first, someone else would have, and some say David Kirkpatrick's THE FACEBOOK EFFECT is actually better. But Kirkpatrick had Zuckerberg's cooperation, which dims his star a little. And Mezrich being first, even if incorrect on micro and some macro levels, means that we won't get a movie called "The Social Network Effect." (Well, maybe in 25 years when the remake cycle has sped up enough.)

The movie is smarter and better put together than Mezrich's book, but more importantly, the book didn't become a conversation topic.
I've had more substantive conversations about "The Social Network" than I have about any other movie this year -- yes Virginia, including "Inception." (And I realize I'm not a fair test case because I toil in the Internets now, but I think this will bear out for other people.) It matters less, although I'm dying to know, what its creators saw in it to make. I'm glad they made the effort.

Filmbook verdict: If you're only going to do one, see the movie. (Wow, and recommending that on my book blog... it is a funny feeling.) If you're going to do both you might as well read the book first. And as long as you're at the movies, there's a documentary about social networking called "Catfish" which makes an excellent companion piece to "The Social Network" -- but where was I, I have some reading to do.

Breaking: Mario Vargas Llosa wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Haruki Murakami set to join Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth in the Bitter
Dudes With Better Odds club. Hmmm... I for one don't really like
Vargas Llosa. What are your feelings?

06 October 2010

File under: good cause, creative effort: Author Jason Mulgrew is raising money for the Trevor Project, a crisis center and helpline for LGBTQ teens, by inviting readers to join his fantasy basketball league. "I haven’t watched a complete basketball game in three years, but I’m still going to destroy you," writes the author of EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH ME. The buy-in is $50 (with the option of buying in for someone else) and includes a copy of his book, and he will match every donation that comes in. (Via Monkeychow.)
I haven't been following the Frankfurt Book Fair news as I should, and Books in the Kitchen shows me why I should: According to Publishers Weekly, Jonathan Lethem just sold his next book there, the Sunnyside, Queens-set DISSIDENT GARDENS. Next, he will get someone to attack him on Twitter, impersonate him in a cloak and steal his glasses.

05 October 2010

The men who stole Jonathan Franzen's glasses straight off his face at a book party in London have been apprehended.

04 October 2010

Apatow and McSweeney's are publishing this anthology to benefit the 826 writing centers. Let's hope it's funnier than "Funny People." (Skeptical.)
Unfairly overlooked (by me): The Rumpus has notes from Lorrie Moore's appearance at the New Yorker Festival this weekend.

03 October 2010

New Yorker Festival: Foer, Pamuk, Their Stuff (With Digressions)

On Friday night I went to see Jonathan Safran Foer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk at the New Yorker Festival event “Possessed,” with Deborah Treisman interviewing and moderating. The pairing was somewhat loose but turned out to be much more within my area of interest than I had initially expected (see Digression 1): Both writers have sideline interests in art and visual projects which they were only too happy to talk about in relation to their work.

Pamuk, who described himself as a “failed painter,” is in the process of transforming his most recent novel THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE into a physical museum in Istanbul, where he was born and where his office is now. The museum, he said, will be a “cultural oddity” to people who haven’t read the book, but for those who have will attempt to duplicate various scenes from it in tableaus of objects. He contrasted visual writers who make you see the world they’re working in (like Tolstoy) to verbal writers who dazzle you with their words (like Dostoevsky), placing himself in the former camp.

Pamuk described furnishing a piece (of which he showed pictures) where the protagonist of the book is standing in his bathroom and said the hardest part was finding the appropriate toothbrush since no one holds onto their toothbrushes from the ‘70s. For another piece he hired another artist to degrade over 4,000 cigarette butts (collected by the narrator from the woman he loves).

Foer, after publishing his first nonfiction book EATING ANIMALS (disliked by your humble blogger), has embarked on something completely different: His new novel TREE OF CODES is an art book created from the manuscript of one of JSF’s personal favorites, Bruno Schulz’s THE STREET OF CROCODILES, in which Foer has cut out parts of the pages or obliterated words in other means to create a new story from the existing story. (Even the title reflects this, see? THE STREET OF CROCODILES.) He didn’t mention this, but I think it’s worth noting that Schulz was a Jewish Pole who was shot and killed in 1942 by a Gestapo officer in a dispute with a friend of his.

To make TREE OF CODES, JSF physically worked on creating the book and shopped it around to several art publishers before finding one that would take it. (He has since started a new novel.) He talked about being inspired in a college sculpture class by the work of Joseph Cornell and wishing, like Pamuk, that he were a painter or visual artist, but deciding that the best way to inspire the same feeling in someone that he felt looking at Cornell’s work was to become a writer.

They both took questions from the audience after, none of which were particularly inspiring except a Polish woman who took the mike just to thank Pamuk for expressing something she could not have expressed. One woman asked Pamuk if he believed objects have auras and took very careful, deliberate notes on his answer (which was, in sum, “if we put them there?”) Foer expounded on his relationship with readers, describing every reading as a “misunderstanding” coming from the deepest part of himself. Unlike other panels I’ve been to, under the New Yorker umbrella or otherwise (see Digression 2), I felt like these authors had a really strong rapport and JSF was properly in awe of his cohort, as were we all.

Digression 1: This is my fourth (!) year attending the New Yorker Festival because I am awesome. However, I don’t love how they clump most of the fiction writers’ events on one night (Friday in this case). It forced me to make a tough choice between this panel and another featuring two authors I love, Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith. Ah, for a clone! My logic behind picking JSF/Pamuk was that I had never seen either of them live, and I thought Pamuk still lived in Istanbul full time, so it would be more difficult to catch him. (He actually teaches at Columbia now; see Digression 3.) Despite the pang I think I made the right choice. (Actually, I was supposed to see Foer AND Smith together at my first fest in 2006, but didn’t make it in from Pennsylvania in time. At least I didn’t have to miss that David Remnick-hosted screening of “Borat.”)

Digression 2: Between this and the Brooklyn Book Festival a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about what makes a good panel of authors, and have found no one ingredient that really makes it. But this I know, a bad panel makes everyone look like they’re shouting past each other into a void, and not the one where the audience is. I don’t even think it’s necessary for authors to have much in common, so long as they’re respectful and acknowledge the distance, but sometimes the rift starts in the pairing. The audience can contribute too: Two years ago I went to an A. M. Homes/ Miranda July festival event, and fully 75 percent of the audience was composed of July fanboys and -girls who had no interest in anything Homes said, and that lack of interest was mirrored onstage. Also, don’t ever be on a panel with Miranda July, she takes very odd pauses in her speaking.

Digression 3: Orhan Pamuk’s problems with the Turkish state never came up during this panel, but it was difficult not to be reminded of them as he discussed his work. “I have seen so many military coups,” he said simply in the process of explaining a scene from THE MUSEUM OF INNOCENCE, and having felt the current regime turn against him, even slightly (the charges were dropped after all) it’s hard to imagine it is not current in his mind. I wonder if he worries about having problems re-entering Turkey to complete his museum. It would be overly simplistic to compare the unrequited love plots that run through his books to any sort of nationalistic feeling or political critique, particularly the sense of betrayal one might feel while being charged with “insulting” one’s own nationality. I mean only a really hack blogger would do that. … …

02 October 2010

There's a mouse in my room and this morning it shat on two books, THE GRAPES OF WRATH and a guide to positive psychology.  Meh, everyone's a critic.

01 October 2010

This one goes out to Hurricane Nicole

When that I was a little tiny boy
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still 'had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world began,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

Favorite comedy, potentially favorite ending as well.