30 April 2010

Important Book Deal: Mindy Kaling of "The Office"

THE CONTENTS OF MY PURSE, a series of comic essays, drawing in part on her blog "Things I Bought That I Love," sharing personal moments -- such as her ode to the most romantic moment in any relationship (when you can scrub your makeup off before you go to sleep and not feel self-conscious), a piece about the dress she can't wear anymore because it reminds her of one of her most embarrassing public moments, and the story of the day she was horrified to learn her boyfriend could fit into her jeans, to Suzanne O'Neill at Crown, for publication in fall 2011, by Richard Abate and Howard Klein at 3 Arts Entertainment (world).
This book isn't for most of you, so consider this a note to myself-in-2011.

29 April 2010

Jersey Reads

The New Jersey library system is in deep trouble after the governor wrote in a 74 percent decrease in funds into next fiscal year's budget, according to the Star-Ledger. Interlibrary loans? Don't need 'em! Internet access in the library? So 2009.

Meanwhile, an assemblyman wants to eliminate minimum funding levels for municipalities throughout the state, about which, some interesting math from a local library director:
"A Parsippany homeowner living in a home valued at $400,000 pays $133.32 per year for public library service. That’s $2.56 a week. If this homeowner or someone in his family borrows one item a month, they are almost doubling their investment. It’s a $10.24 investment versus the almost $20 cost for that item. "
For those of us heavy users of the library, high five! that sounds like a serious bargain, but I'm afraid that could cut both ways -- with people saying, "Well, I'll just buy $133.32 or less in entertainment myself, thanks." It is possible to do this, but you sure wouldn't go out much; at least this way you're going to the library.

Jerseyites might want to watch SaveMyNJLibrary.org to see what they can do about either or both of those initiatives, including attending the rally next week. (Sent in by a special correspondent who saw Neil Gaiman tweeting about it.)

28 April 2010

Punchline delivery vehicle

I missed this London Review of Books panel on "the author in the age of the Internet," but from the Observer and New York Times recaps it sounds great. Did you know the LRB has an office in Brooklyn? It's true!

Discontent to have Michael Lewis speak for him (well, all right), Michael Oher, the football player who was the subject of THE BLIND SIDE, will put out a memoir next year called I BEAT THE ODDS. His adoptive parents Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy are beating him to press with IN A HEARTBEAT: SHARING THE POWER OF CHEERFUL GIVING this summer. I wonder if authors ever think about making their subjects sign non-compete agreements saying they won't publish or contribute to another book project -- surely they could ask them not to give interviews to other authors, and this is just the next step, right? I really need to read a book about this.

Are female critics too nice to the books they review? Sarah McCarry argues as much based on her experience with YA literature online, not a field I have any experience in, but it's an interesting point. Actually, it reminds me of the time some commenters on an author's blog started attacking me because I'd assigned her book an A-, and the author actually stepped in and said "Dudes, chill out, I'm happy with it." I was glad that she was glad, but I try not to think about how the author will feel when evaluating a book. Clearly when I Become A Famous Novelist I'm going to have to take off for some place like Arkhangelsk that only has really bad Internet access.

New York asked Meghan Daum and Emily Gould who would read their forthcoming memoirs, and they responded:
Daum: People with a sense of humor.
Gould: Twenty-three-year-old girls who have Tumblr accounts.
This is an ace question, at least for funny people. Can't lie, I'm anticipating them both (have already started the Daum actually).

Finally, Karl Rove is on book tour right now in Utah and New Mexico for his book COURAGE AND CONSEQUENCES, no doubt answering the question, "What two things do I wish I knew what it felt like to have?"

27 April 2010

I'll just read a book instead

So goes the refrain in Kate Nash's "Do-Wah-Doo." Here's the retro-airline-video:

26 April 2010

'Tis the season

Here are two stacks of books someone left in my apartment lobby this weekend. I find the tension between business advice and GRE prep to be particularly poignant.

My own manic bout of spring cleaning involved practically everything except books, and I would be hard-pressed to tell you what was so funny about the guy in front of me at the Salvation Army on Saturday donating a copy of THE MISTS OF AVALON, but... that happened. I guess if you don't get the joke, there is a copy on the West Side waiting for you, likely for cheap.

If you are feeling a similar need to tidy up, I recommend Erin Doland's UNCLUTTER YOUR LIFE IN ONE WEEK. Doland runs a really excellent lifehacking blog (yes, "unclutter" and "unbooken" are second cousins) but the book doesn't repeat her advice so much as break it up into manageable chunks. In my case, "one week" was more like "a few odd hours here and there and one really rainy weekend," but it still helped.

25 April 2010

Twitter Book Club #1b1t

Wired is starting a Twitter-based "big read" for this summer, complete with convenient hashtag. Currently, AMERICAN GODS is winning in the voting, with 1984 right behind; slightly surprisingly, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is getting the most negative votes.

The blog post notes that Seattle started the "big read" trend in 1998 when local residents organized Seattle Reads to read Russell Banks' THE SWEET HEREAFTER. I can only imagine that that choice was stage-managed by area psychiatrists, because that is one of the most depressing books I've ever read. In 2006, the initiative became an NEA program complete with federal grant money up for grabs (no longer restricted to just municipalities) and an official reading list.

(Still on SWEET HEREAFTER. Seriously, Internet, come over and give me a hug?)

24 April 2010

Virtual Tour: Daunt Books in London

I read this name off the tote bag of a woman in front of me in line at a coffee shop the other day and decided to look it up. Let's take an armchair tour, shall we?

The Daunt Books flagship is on Marylebone High Street and all the books are organized by country, a quirk that makes more sense if you know that it specializes in travel books.

See the sign going down to the basement?

From the second-floor gallery. Love that one turquoise wall.

Good trip! Let's take our finds to the London Public Gardens to enjoy:

Photo credits in order: Ewan-M, SusanAstray, pfig, rowlandr, spektrograph, 762_AK

23 April 2010

Simmer down, Carolyn

This is the Washington Post with, let's face it, a bit of a crush, really:
Paolo Giordano, at the age of 27, has recently completed a doctorate in particle physics, and he's an incontrovertible hottie. I don't know what any of this has to do with the quality of his novel, but, the book business being what it is these days, that can only be a blessing.
There is no such thing as an incontrovertible hottie. I'm pretty sure that was the 11th commandment because it dovetails in so nicely with not coveting thy neighbor's wife.

Anyway, I read a much more positive review of Mr. Giordano's book, THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS, a few weeks ago that didn't mention his looks. I'm inclined to check it out because I like to see what makes a foreign best-seller. This is what he looks like, draw your own conclusions.

Heartwarming short story

From a San Franciscan friend on Twitter:

Earlier: The San Francisco Public Library ran a very popular overdue-book amnesty campaign featuring famous overdue borrower Chesley Sullenberger.

22 April 2010

NYC: Important Monday-Night Plans

Writer Maureen Miller, of the very funny Rumpus reading, is performing at Comix on the 26th. I will be there and you should too. (It's part of my new life initiative "Throw Money At Funny." Actually, now that I've written that down it seems like sort of a good idea.)

This is the listing but if you call in and reserve a ticket, you'll get $5 off.

"That's pretty old"

I'm going to be quoting this nine-strip version of THE GREAT GATSBY for the rest of the year, so it would probably behoove you to take a look at it. (From Kate Beaton, who brought us Dude Watchin' With The Brontës.)

21 April 2010

Harold took the package, thanked the clerk, and, when he turned to go, saw, some ten feet away, behind a rack of T-shirts, a man regarding him with an ironical half-smile. Failure! This was Failure, with his wet vague eyes and a large pink scalp, like a newborn's, pressing up through thinning hair. Harold somehow recognized the man as Failure without their having been introduced, just as one knows the meaning of a cry of pain or exultation without having to look it up. "Hey man," said Failure, as if he might ask Harold for a light. "Hi, how are you?" said Harold, in general a polite person.

Walking away in the pixellated rain, Harold strung half a dozen faces into a unity: it was Failure, then, who had given Harold directions one night and whom Harold had also seen standing in a subway car, and seated at a table at El Famous Burrito; Failure who'd peered slyly at him from the steps of the public library, and who just two days ago had looked at him with ugly frankness from the other side of a bagel cart.

--Benjamin Kunkel, "Failure"

Seeing other libraries

Once a week, usually Fridays, I leave the office in the middle of the day and walk west past a string of row houses and grand buildings with names and porte-cocheres. My coworkers probably think I'm at lunch, but lunch is in the fridge, and I am at the branch library where I have been sending all of my reserves recently.

I still like my old branch, and it's close to my apartment, but things just haven't been the same between us. First, it started closing an hour earlier on its two designated 'late' days, forcing me to either race uptown or wait for the weekend (the other nights it closes at 5). Then more and more often, I would go to pick up a reserve and it wouldn't be on the shelf, and I'd have to ask at the desk for it; sometimes they wouldn't even check among the to-be-shelved reserves, telling me to "come back another day." I admit I'm impatient, but when I get the notice that a book is in, I expect it to actually be in. I forgot my library card at my new branch once and an employee was able to work around it with my last name and card number -- imagine! He could have just said no.

I've come to depend on the time out, too. The smallest errand can take on jailbreak dimensions. On a nice day the blossoming trees wave and what was an icy wind-conducting corridor becomes a breezy stroll. I nod at the doormen, the nannies with their charges; even the tourists unable to process a walk sign don't bother me much. I don't take my phone, because no one at work has the number and frankly there is nothing that can't wait a half hour till I come back. My head clears out, well, except last week when that 20-minute period set off my allergies so bad I spent the rest of the day rubbing my eyes like a 12-year-old girl watching "The Notebook." I still would have taken the walk. Maybe it won't work out with this branch but right now it's new and sweet and springlike.

20 April 2010

Added to the list of titles I like of books I haven't read: Philip Roth's THE COUNTERLIFE. Anyone read it?

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope

Rufus Wainwright's new album "All Days Are Nights," out today, includes three songs written for Shakespearean sonnets -- #10, #20 and #43. (Or if you prefer: "For shame deny that thou bear'st love to any," "A woman's face with nature's own hand painted" and "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see." I Googled that for you!) Appropriate given that Shakespeare was born 446 years ago this month.

Wainwright never officially released this sonnet song but it's quite pretty:

19 April 2010

Do you write in your books?

Mark Twain did! A western Connecticut town has unearthed a load of his books in which Twain, who died 100 years ago this month, energetically underlined and scribbled comments that were sometimes polite but mostly snarky.

I actually don't write in my books that much, even the ones that are important to me. I got out of the habit during college (except for books in Spanish, in which I left in translations of obscure words) and now I wish I had because I wonder what I was looking at the last time I read them. On the other hand, I have books I wrote in in high school that I can barely read for the embarrassment of my own comments. My copy of THE GREAT GATSBY is like this -- I think I may just have to buy another one.

I will often dog-ear lower corners of books I review as shorthand for "Something about this page/passage is worthy of mention, I'll get back to this." I know it's bad for the books, but I give away most of them so I'm not overly concerned with keeping them new-looking. (Naturally, I won't do either of these things in books I've borrowed -- in case you are contemplating a recall.)

18 April 2010

Bad borrower of the week

George Washington never returned two books he checked out of the New York Society Library in 1789. The only library in New York at the time, now a subscription-based library on the Upper East Side that costs $175 a year to join, is still missing its copies of THE LAW OF NATIONS and Volume 12 of THE COMMONS DEBATES (transcripts from the British House of Commons) and no one knows where the missing books are.

Though a librarian insists to the Daily News that he will not collect, Washington is in line for about a $300,000 library fine if he wants to pick up that "1776" soundtrack he reserved.

(Thanks Henry for sending me this!)

17 April 2010

Best supporting actor of 2010

I went to see "Date Night" last night, which is not a very good movie, but the bit with the Kindle nearly killed me. Explaining it well would necessitate spoiling most of the plot, so I'm going to go ahead and do that in the comments right now. Meet me there if you've seen "Date Night" or don't care about spoilers, and want to talk about why it isn't better (or disagree and argue that it's secretly good, which... I doubt).

Star Tina Fey signed a deal a year and a half ago for a nonfiction humor book, but I can't find anything about when that book will be published or what it will be called. (Hopefully, soon and something funny, respectively.)

But seriously, do not read the comments if you don't want to be spoiled.

16 April 2010

New York Times in the tank for Doubleday

From the e-mail update that always arrives at the point of lowest hope on Friday afternoons:

How can you not want to read Ian McEwan's latest after seeing that hook? It's like a dare. The review itself is pretty splendid, although I was waiting for the appropriate "Ghost World" quotation that never arrived.

Also, I cropped it out, but right below this blurb was a muted Flash ad for something I want to read for non-dare-related reasons, David Lipsky's DFW book ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF.

The emperor has no shoes

Christopher McDougall's BORN TO RUN can be credited with launching the biggest fad to hit running in the past five years. And when I use that f-word, I use it in the nicest way possible. (Roll it out over your tongue for a second. A faaaaaaaad. Such a pleasing sound.) I read this book to see what the fuss was about, and I see now, even if I'm not prepared to join in the fussing.

McDougall opens the book a broken man, a longtime runner plagued by seemingly unsolvable foot pain and told to basically get a bike and move on. Then he hears about an indigenous tribe in northern Mexico whose members routinely run hundreds of miles, and whose all-day social running competitions (preceded by all-night drunken parties) are rarely witnessed by outsiders. When he finds a guide to introduce him to the Tarahumara, he discovers their feats to be even more impressive: Not only do they run long distances in the desert heat, they scramble up rocky cliffs in their way either barefoot or with very thin sandals.

(One of the book's major effects has been to advance the spread of the Vibram Fivefingers shoe, which is supposed to help you mimic barefoot running while providing a little comfort. They are also the most ridiculous looking type of footwear I have ever seen, and in the big city I see a lot of Regrettable Footwear Choices. I saw a guy wearing these in 30-degree weather outside in the park, and as he vainly massaged his toes I thought, You know what would work great on those? SOCKS AND SHOES.)

McDougall adopts their running stride, their barefootedness and some of their fuel, all while doing research into why and how humans have run throughout their evolution. In the midst of his own quest he takes a detour into the world of ultrarunning, a sort of supersport for crazy people who enjoy competing in events like 100 miles nonstop in the Rockies. Unlike the Tarahumara, inviting but impenetrable, these death cheaters (of which Scott Jurek is probably the sanest) are only too happy to open up to McDougall about their exploits, which could fill several books of their own.

The long hours McDougall logs with the personalities of BORN TO RUN paid off for me; his research did not. Armed with anecdotes, the author sets out to construct a powerful image of pre-modern man running for survival -- he even brings in the testimony of an anthropologist who witnessed a high-speed hunt on foot in Africa -- but it all seems a little too convenient. A section about the birth of Nike in the 1970s is fascinating, but capped off with a sort of blanket indictment of shoe companies for making our feet unstable and injury-prone. It's good to be skeptical of the effects of modern technology, but if people have evolved to run over thousands of years, how could thirty years of sports footwear undo that?

I sort of wish I could be on the bandwagon on this one, but maybe if I manage your expectations you will enjoy it more than I did. Pick it up for the adventure story and the suspense, not to have it change the way you think about running; you'll be much better off.

15 April 2010

Comeback Specials

New York Times: According to a new book, once(-and-future?) governor of New York Eliot Spitzer so impressed a prostitute he hired that she read a biography of him.

CNet: While I'm not remotely interested in getting an iPad, these animated children's books (including ALICE IN WONDERLAND and some Dr. Seuss) are beautiful.

Chicago Sun-Times: The author of a tell-all book on Oprah is surprised that some people won't take her phone calls now. Also, the Sun-Times has an entire blog dedicated to Oprah news... I now feel 23 percent better about my life choices.

Washington Post: Every six months demands a good what-Obama-is-reading piece, this one studded with bits of trivia on other 20th-century presidents.

Associated Press: She's so excited, she's so excited, she's so... Elizabeth Berkley is writing a YA advice book.

14 April 2010

Meghan Daum's new book

Out May 4 from Knopf, a memoir, her first book since the 2003 novel THE QUALITY OF LIFE REPORT.

Daum's essay "My Misspent Youth" is one I go back to over and over. Her L.A. Times column is much more topical, but a highlight of Friday mornings for sure; I recommend "Medicine, hope and managing death" and "'The Hurt Locker' reality."

ETA: And she just started blogging this week.

13 April 2010

May own the world, but he don't own us

While you were arguing about the National Enquirer's claim to journalism... The Pulitzers came out! The relevant winners:
Fiction -- TINKERS by Paul Harding
Drama -- "Next To Normal" by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (well, at least I've heard of this one)
Poetry -- VERSED by Rae Armantrout
I think the lesson we've learned here is that your odds of winning will be better if you write a nonfiction book about rich and/or powerful white dudes. (Yeah, what else is new.)

12 April 2010

Where I'm writing from

This weekend's New York Times featured the redesign of a living room in an apartment occupied by two writers, Victor LaValle and Emily Raboteau, so that she could have a workspace at home just like him.

Reading these articles gives me ideas above my station, but most days I feel lucky even to have room for a desk. It was part of the lot of IKEA furniture I bought from the last woman who occupied this room, and while it's not the desk I would have picked out on my own, the price was right. Amidst the books and magazines stacked on it are a never-opened tin of Mariebelle hot chocolate (so cute!), my splendid Sennheiser headphones and a Weenie Whistle. I face a wall with a black-and-white poster of Paris on it, that I think I bought in college. There's a window to my right so I get a little sun and can see the sky over the building next door. Where are you writing from?

11 April 2010

The Prince wore white

If the words "free opera" make your heart flutter, come sit by me and let me tell you about the awesome thing that happened to me this week. I won tickets to "Hamlet" at the Metropolitan Opera through a random draw contest on Dailylit, a site I write about a lot and with whom I am currently suffering through WOMEN IN LOVE. (Not their fault.) They didn't ask me to blog about it, but I thought I would make some notes about the adaptation because some of it was very surprising to me as a general Shakespeare geek.

I had never heard of a musical version of "Hamlet," but it's a French opera by Ambroise Thomas that originally debuted in 1868. The first shocking thing that I learned from reading the program notes was that in Thomas' version, Hamlet lives. Say what? It turns out almost all productions of "Hamlet" in 19th-century France gave ol' Danish McSadbones a happy ending, because audiences in that era were not receptive to killing off the heroes. Can you imagine the uproar if a theater company were to pull this off today? ("Hamlet 2" doesn't count.) Thomas wrote an alternate ending in which Hamlet does die, but it was probably never performed in his lifetime. This "Hamlet" mixes both endings but allows the Prince to die in the end.

That's not the only significant change the opera makes to the play, but it's the most important. Instead of opening on the battlements, we open on the wedding of Gertrude and Claudius; Horatio and Polonius are reduced to bit parts and Ophelia's role is beefed up to a lead; and indeed, while this is a choice of design rather than direction, Hamlet appears for the first time wearing white, switching to black only after he sees the Ghost. As was also included in the program notes, there are three drinking songs that run about as counter to the mood as you can imagine, but the "play within a play" ends with an extended sequence of a triumphant Hamlet climbing on a table in front of the horrified court, wrapping himself in a tablecloth and pouring wine all over himself (resembling blood). It's a dramatic pre-intermission tableau but very striking.

Either because of the translation from French to English in the supertitles or just lyrical choices in general, virtually all of the language one remembers as being particularly "Hamlet" is missing from this libretto, making it more surprising when it does appear (as Claudius' "My words fly up, my thoughts remain below"). What's it like seeing Shakespeare without the Shakespeare in it? ... Weird. One line from the gravediggers' scene even seems like a commentary on the original play as one chucks a skull out of the grave and says something like "They told us who he was... but we forgot." Alas, poor whoever! I knew him but not well enough apparently!

Hamlet's famous soliloquies are mostly reduced to a few lines, with two exceptions: "Now might I do it pat" (where Hamlet contemplates killing Claudius at prayer) and "To be or not to be" (in French, "Etre ou ne pas être") become arias of their own standing. Still, they don't follow the lines as we're used to; in fact, to my great amusement, the supertitled opening of "Etre ou ne pas être" read as follows:
To be or not to be...
Oh, what mystery!
High school students everywhere couldn't have said it better.

As befits Ophelia's larger role, her death sequence is much more prominent, taking up all of act IV, and surprisingly more moving. I usually have a problem with Ophelia as performed, because a lot of actresses... overcommit to the madness and end up with a character you want to laugh at instead of pity. As written by Thomas, this Ophelia is on the brink of getting married to Hamlet (Gertrude's genius idea to take away his melancholy), only to be stood up, enduring a long Miss Havisham moment in her bridal gown, stabbing herself in the chest and wrists and then drowning herself while hallucinating the water nymphs are calling to her. Maybe it's because she is singing throughout the whole production, but seeing Jane Archibald casting about the flowers somehow stripped the performance back to the horror of seeing a beautiful girl driven mad -- ironically closer to Shakespeare's intention, I think, despite the gore and the sheer length of her dying throes.

For a Shakespeare nerd such as myself, getting the chance to absorb and digest this was a perfect night out, not least because our seats were unbelievable. I have been to the Met twice before since I moved to New York, both times strategically planning my visit around when I could get the least expensive seats in the top-level Family Circle. Sitting in the orchestra, I could see moments between characters that felt almost intimate, which seems like a funny word to be used in opera. I brought my friend P., an opera virgin who was pleasantly surprised at how fast-moving and riveting it was. (The first opera I ever saw was "The Magic Flute," which is a lot more playful and catchier, in case you're looking to get into the genre.)

Although his performance required a different set of skills than an actor would face in the straight play, Simon Keenlyside sung a great Hamlet, bringing subtlety to a part that could easily be incredibly exaggerated. (The New York Times called him "the Ralph Fiennes of baritones," although he looked more like a Nathan Fillion to me, especially when he came out wearing a brown trench coat in the final act. I noticed that just for you, Internet!) Archibald was great, and David Pittsinger as the Ghost -- and while I didn't care for Jennifer Larmore as Gertrude, technically she was excellent.

The Met's "Hamlet" is closed now, but if you ever have the chance to see this opera I would definitely take it. This is my seventh live "Hamlet," so I'm in the tank as far as the play is concerned, but it's interesting to contemplate what an earlier era might have considered "decent" to show on stage (not duels, for one thing!) and how that shaped those audiences' experiences with Shakespeare. Thanks to Dailylit and merci beaucoup to the Met for sponsoring a night out I could not have had otherwise.

10 April 2010

Margaret Mitchell’s main character was named Pansy O’Hara up until the last draft of GONE WITH THE WIND, when she became Scarlett.
--from a New York Times blog post on baby names.

Obviously except for your books, Mr. Rushdie, which are also very good.

Chatter, the blog of Diesel Bookstores in California, just posted a helpful list of pronunciations of authors' names (via PWKnox). I won't ask which ones you've been getting wrong if you won't.

Obvious but helpful tip: If you need to know how to pronounce a living author's name, try searching on YouTube to find video of him or her at an event saying it. Audio from NPR interviews used to be my gold standard, but some of their commentators veer off the beaten path and their subjects are too polite to correct them.

09 April 2010

750Words.com: For those about to write

Here's a cool accountability-driven writing site just bubbled up from the darkness. 750 Words would like to encourage you to do a little writing every day (about 3 pages, YFMV) and provides an auto-scrolling, auto-saving text box to get you to the magic number. You "compete" against other people on the site to have written every day and get stats on your performance (at l. via the creator's site), but unlike with a blog, what you write is completely private.

I'm sure it sets Merlin's head on fire to think about the people who would need this. For me, I'd rather resurrect my Daytum account and just enter the word counts there than be tied to feeding work over various platforms into one site. But it could be a great motivator if you find that you start out with intentions of writing every day and then fall off a little, then fall off a little more, and suddenly you're all caught up on "Archer" and have no work to show for it. (Hypothetically.) The site just started a challenge for April, but you have time to catch up.

08 April 2010

Your Assistance Please: If they don't win it's a shame

The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd... The Second Pass has a neat post this week about baseball books and recommends some that are new to me, including THE BROTHERS K and CRAZY '08.

Is it time for me to do another baseball book week? I think so! Two solid options I have on hand are Philip Roth's THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL (= one of the greatest book titles ever) and Jonathan Mahler's LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BRONX IS BURNING. What else should I make time for? For reference, the first-rounders were THE BOYS OF SUMMER, THE NATURAL (plus the iffy movie), THREE NIGHTS IN AUGUST and MONEYBALL.

07 April 2010

I've been trying to turn it into a verb ever since

Highlights of last night's Rumpus event at the Highline Ballroom:
  • Michael Showalter has a book coming out! It's called MR. FUNNY PANTS and the excerpt he read consisted of absurdist word games.
  • After Showalter biffed the URL of the site, which was not that funny, Sam Lipsyte did a callback to it before he read, which was.
  • This is the second time in four months I have seen Lipsyte and Colson Whitehead on the same bill. Are they in cahoots?? Nah, it was probably just a coincidence. (Whitehead was really funny, but funnier last time.)
  • Speaking of Lipsyte, The Rumpus held a short fiction contest where contestants had to use one line from his novel THE ASK. Four winners read, but one was clearly better than all the others, and that was Maureen Miller with her unforgettable riff on punctuation. Miller also performs an important public service in running a site for parsing rap lyrics ETA and has some other funny stuff you can read here.
Fun times. My friend A and I were so close to the action that the women we were sharing a table with turned out to be connected to the Rumpus founder and he came and sat with us during some sets. Were you there? Who was your favorite performer?

06 April 2010

Penguin State Of Mind

So... Penguin Group USA decided to make its own version of the ubiquitous Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song of five minutes ago, and they really committed to this on a Bank of America/ "One" level:

Not to be outdone, Random House has scheduled a mandatory lipdub for all its offices tomorrow.

**Update 4/7: It appears Penguin has pulled this video from its YouTube channel. Is someone getting fired?? I mean, it was funny-bad, not damaging-bad. Anyway, here's what I remember from it:
- Nerdy white guy with dollar-sign glasses standing on the TKTS Steps in Times Square (call-back to the original video)
- Same guy later receiving a bro-hug from a full-grown man in a Winnie the Pooh costume
- A dance team wearing all black doing moves over a conference-room table -- and they were perfectly adequate, but it was a little bizarre
- Women leaning over tiny pianos pretending to play
- The hook of the song doesn't really sound that good without an Alicia Keys-level vocal talent. No offense.
- A lot of random groups of people standing in front of black backgrounds
- Possibly a Charlaine Harris cameo, although I'm not positive it was her. She was standing in front of a group shouting "Sookie Stackhouse!" Thanks to a commenter, have confirmed it was Charlaine Harris' editor, not Harris herself. Dang. Oh well.
- And the best part!!! A memorial card at the end to Robert B. Parker and Dick Francis, who are likely spinning in their graves right now.

Rob Sheffield goes back to the tape deck

Rolling Stone writer Sheffield's first memoir LOVE IS A MIX TAPE made my list of books that make you cry. His follow-up, though, seems a little more light-hearted:

It's out July 15th. Maybe he'll be back at the Brooklyn Book Festival this year?

05 April 2010

Goodreads: Death to auto-post!

Reader beware, if you have the Goodreads Facebook application installed and you log on to add a book, Goodreads will now auto-publish it to your Facebook feed. You can get rid of it automatically by uninstalling the Facebook app (as I have just done) or manually, by looking for the box to uncheck in the lower right-hand corner of the "Added to your shelf" bubble.

I just noticed this and what a total nuisance. If this feature had to be offered at all, Goodreads should have made it opt-in, not opt-out as well as let users know they were about to start spamming their Facebook friends with how many books they had out from the library. It's not that I mind that everyone could have known I finally got off the waiting list for THE HELP, I am happy to cheerlead for the site, but would prefer to do it on my own terms.
This week's Ethicist, the second in recent memory to tackle a book-related problem, addresses the issue of pirating a digital copy of a book after you've already bought the physical book. The letter-writer was upset that Stephen King's UNDER THE DOME was not available to buy digitally as it came out in hardcover, so bought the book instead -- and then later loaded up with a pirated copy.

I don't buy new e-books enough to know, but this tactic strikes me as superbly annoying. Sadly this kind of distribution -- the article uses the term "windowing" -- seems to be the latest in Content Owners Strike Back. Warner Bros. won't let Netflix rent their new DVDs out for the first month after release Hulu allows networks to delay the shows they put up by a week to encourage TV and DVR viewing, and so on. I would be interested to see how much if any money is being made off these types of deals. They do own the material, and it is their right, but at some point it might not be worth telling potential customers "not yet."

The other curious thing about this column is that, having gone to the trouble to ask the publisher of Grand Central what she thought, the Ethicist totally disregarded her answer and told readers the opposite. (Yet still quoted her.) What did he think "[his] friend Jamie Raab" was going to say? "Please pirate this book since it was published by our competitor"?

04 April 2010

Of The Exaggerated Moniker, Yes

Yesterday in Central Park, I saw a man walking around in a Speedo and tennis shoes. "Typical New York," I thought, and carried on.

No wait, I didn't! Because exhibitionist season hasn't even started yet, and because I noticed across his abs he (or someone else?) had written "NakedAuthor.com."

The Naked Author is a self-published novelist named Jason Mitchiner whose gimmick is showing up to places mostly bare. He probably would have stood out even more had there not been a race going on in Central Park and an assortment of muscled yet oddly dressed people milling about. (I think I remember him having a number on in fact, but where would he have attached it?)

From his website he seems a little conflicted about his schtick, writing, "Everything is changing. Will I ever become known for my books as the serious author, Jason W. Mitchiner or will I only be known from my gimmick as the Naked Author?" So here's some free advice: Buy a BEA pass! There was a stir last year over a giveaway of bags printed with photos of hunky men; this would certainly up the ante. And it's probably a lot more agent-dense than a random Saturday in the park.

03 April 2010

I thought this was an April Fool's Day joke, but the INFINITE JEST iPhone/iPad app (link prompts but will not actually open iTunes) appears to be real. I'm not sure how anyone could possibly prefer it, other than the portability, which means less to me after I've already carried it around through a few months. I would prefer not to be separated from my paper copy of IJ at this time.

If you had to choose one book to carry around with you, though, what would you pick? (You could keep and read other books, it's not a desert island scenario.)

02 April 2010

Chad Harbach will be buying a lot of drinks this weekend...

...now that GalleyCat let out that the n+1 editor and fellow Wisconsinite scored a $650,000 advance for his first novel. You may or may not believe that large advances are Ruining Publishing As We Know It, but that is a really big sum -- and the winning company (Little, Brown) wasn't even the highest bidder!

I was unable to root out the advances given to his fellow n+1 novelists, Benjamin Kunkel and Keith Gessen for INDECISION and ALL THE SAD YOUNG LITERARY MEN respectively. (I would guess the latter's was larger, but that is an uninformed guess.) I didn't like ...LITERARY MEN but I saw Gessen speak on a panel last year and he was very articulate. His next book, found by accident while searching on Amazon, is a collection of interviews with a hedge fund manager called DIARY OF A VERY BAD YEAR. I liked INDECISION a lot and hope Kunkel has another novel in the pipeline soon.

Still judging by the cover

First, I know you were all totally fooled by yesterday's post, which is not true. Too subtle? Ah well. This much is true though, the Hollywood Reporter is the worst.

Not quite the worst, but still a little deplorable: The book cover picked for the photo illustrating the recent New York Times story, "In E-Book Era, You Can't Even Judge a Cover," sent to me by regular commenter Elizabeth who knows how I enjoy dissecting these stories. I appreciate that it's an out-of-print edition to demonstrate maximum BHDery but something about the empty underwear really creeps me out. Also, I own this book, and I haven't read it, but my copy also has a bowler hat on it -- anyone want to explain that reference to me?

The Times does this story every year -- last year it was called "With a Kindle, Can You Tell It's Proust?" and I wrote about it then. Last year it was more about pretentiousness, and this year it's more about design, but the impulse is the same.

I have seen a slight rise in Kindle and e-Reader sightings on my subway trips over the past year, but I don't think the book is really in danger. (Surprise!) Far more people use their smartphones instead of reading than read e-books over the classic model, but that's not much of a trend story. And unless people who get Kindles are rushing out to also get rid of their paper-based libraries, I don't see how paper books will just magically vanish one day. Besides, there are other ways to judge whether people are reading or well-read than just peeking at what they're reading. Or so I hear.

Also, it strikes me how much of a public-transit-using city-dweller's concern this is. They might still be carrying a book, but most Americans are driving to work and (one would hope) not reading anything at the same time -- and when the weather gets warm, they're in their backyards reading, not Bryant Park.

01 April 2010

Dave Eggers Hired For Rewrites To "Captain America"

The author of A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS has been having a couple flirtations with Hollywood over the past year, but it appears to be love: According to yesterday's Hollywood Reporter, he's taking over from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely on the script for the long-gestating "Captain America" adaptation starring Chris Evans.

I'll admit, having Eggers on board does raise my interest in the project, which heretofore had been limited to being annoyed that the Hollywood Reporter needed to send out every little update as "breaking news." (Slash disappointed when John Krasinski didn't get the lead.) I've probably learned more about who Captain America is in the last five minutes on Wikipedia than I ever needed to know. (For a while I thought they meant Captain Planet. See?) So if the intention was to capture my mostly blockbuster-averse demographic, mission sort of accomplished.

Still, and I know it's treacherous to say this... I wish he would get back to fiction! Last year's ZEITOUN I liked, but it was a reported story, not invention. Last year also brought us his novelization of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, THE WILD THINGS, and I haven't gotten around to reading it yet because the excerpt in the New Yorker was just so ponderous. (Then again, that might be a perfect superhero-movie match...?) I didn't see the movie either, although I intend to check that box eventually.

And where is the glory in getting to do this -- what good will it do him, besides the paycheck? I can better understand his desire to want to write indie movies than climb aboard a project that already seems like a mess. Michael Greenberg's BEG, BORROW, STEAL includes a heartbreaking essay on being hired for rewrites, chewed up and spat out by premiere time, and it strikes me that adding Eggers to a movie that already has two screenwriters working from original materials doesn't necessarily mean any of his shine will show up in the finished product.

I guess if the movie's terrible he can always go "back" to writing books, but I'd prefer not to think of that as a backstop for the unsuccessful screenwriter, and I thought he would agree with me. Anyway, the Reporter piece is little more than a press release, as they all seem to be these days.