30 September 2011

Ya burnt, John O'Hara

Of the many delights of LIFE ITSELF, just one for now: Roger Ebert recalls a college professor who deemed John O'Hara a "first-rate second-rate author" -- fine with young Roger whose tastes leaned more toward Thomas Wolfe instead. Ebert would later review his professor's book badly, and then be capsized with guilt over it, but appreciate his words sometime later when he almost flunked out of study-abroad eligibility.

It's a great book, is what I'm saying, and I'm glad one of my coworkers (hey, P.!) is reading it simultaneously so we can talk about it later.To be a little unfair to a writer I otherwise like, this is the kind of nostalgia book THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID wishes it was.

29 September 2011

Filmbook-to-Be: Trailer for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

No, you're tearing up. (PS: Max von Sydow alert!)

What Inspired Bernhard Schlink to Write THE WEEKEND

On Tuesday night I went to see Bernhard Schlink, best known as the author of THE READER, read from his newly paperbacked book THE WEEKEND in Brooklyn. Schlink is patchy-haired and tall and his English is better than he gives it credit for, but he says he still struggles with the inability to make jokes in the language. Given the darkness of most of his books, this in itself was pretty funny.

Schlink is a retired judge and teaches law part-time while he writes. THE WEEKEND, a terrific book that was one of my favorites of last year, isn't as close to the law as THE READER was but comments on it through the experience of Jörg, one of its main characters and a former domestic terrorist who has just been unexpectedly pardoned. The weekend in question is
Jörg's first as a free man in over 20 years, and his sister Christiane has invited some of their "old friends" (read: mostly former collaborators) to her country cabin to attempt to help ease him back into the world.

The seed for THE WEEKEND was planted some forty years ago, Schlink said, when he was a graduate student and the type of cells such as described in the novel were somewhat common among his age and social group. (I say "somewhat" because this is a gap in my knowledge; I don't want to overstate their prevalence, but to Schlink's telling they were quite close to him, and an acquaintance even went to prison through his activities with one.) Schlink described himself, "living the bougie life," coming home and having his parents confront him with the words, "We've been thinking, and if you become a terrorist and you have to take shelter, you can stay overnight, but the next day you have to go." While such acts were far from the author's mind at the time, he began to imagine that one night of refuge -- and its counterpart, the welcome-home several years later.

To write the book Schlink was able to interview a bunch of former terrorists, including one who wrote her dissertation on THE READER while in prison, and he said that those accounts are trickling out
in books and interviews without much condemnation for those former acts. As someone in the audience pointed out, the idea of rehabilitating terrorists (even domestic ones) and welcoming them back into society is fairly foreign to American ears.

28 September 2011

Housing Works Books Groupon Haulblog

Originally purchased in April. And yes, I zeroed out at exactly the Groupon price because I am a champion.

  • Michael Ondaatje, THE ENGLISH PATIENT
  • John Jeremiah Sullivan, PULPHEAD
  • Laura Lippmann, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE 
  • David Foster Wallace, OBLIVION

27 September 2011

Another good reason to be on Twitter: Finding out that Salman Rushdie is an "Office" fan. (Via.) Kaling's book IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? comes out November 1st.

The greatest book-related missed connection ever

I hope this is real. Williamsburg, stop being so hip, you're killing us!

L Train reading Jonathan Franzen - m4w - 25 (Between Lorimer & Graham)

Date: 2011-09-24, 6:46PM EDT

I saw you on the L train yesterday. We made eye contact several times before the Lorimer stop.

Were sitting under the metro map wearing Dark rimmed glasses.
You have short brown hair
a tattoo on the forearm, which I couldn't quite make out,
a plaid skirt with leggings on underneath and you were also wearing a belt well above your waist.
I noticed you were reading a Jonathan Franzen book. (Maybe The Corrections?)

I was standing in the door wearing a worn, blue Buffalo Bills T,
kahki shorts that are just above the knees,
dark-rimmed glasses, and sandals.
I have a poney tail, and am mostly bald on top.
Also, my socks had teddy bears on them.
I was reading George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons.

After the Graham stop you looked me in the eyes and then readjusted your brassiere. In response I looked you in the eyes, and adjusted my member. You didn't respond to my initial response, and the gentleman standing next to me was a mexican who didn't smell so great, so in order to clearly identify my interest, and that I didn't smell bad, I leaned over you and pretended to examine the subway map. While leaning over you, I stuffed my hand in my pocket and readjusted my member again, in the hopes you would pick up my signal.

I was too late though, because you immediately had to get off at your stop (lorimer). Please contact me if you'd like to get some thai food one night, maybe come over and we could watch episodes of Dr. Who. Maybe if I'm lucky you'll let me play with your pumpkin.

26 September 2011

"Once you find the right epigraph, the novel that follows it will be easy to finish."
--Nobody Ever

25 September 2011

Two Times stories of note

Here's a story for you NETHERLAND readers: "Tribute in White for Cricket Patriarch." (Joseph O'Neill if you're reading this, go write another book. Spit spot.)

And here's one for the nosy: "Snooping in the Age of eBook." Hint: Lean over a little and train your eyes on the place you believe the title to be on the screen. If caught, just look away and feign innocence. (What?) Luckily, I don't know anyone who's 100-percent switched over to e-books.

New Yorkers, don't forget the Housing Works Street Fair today.

24 September 2011

Classic children's books as minimalist posters. Beautiful. Via Christian Jackson/ Square Inch Design

23 September 2011

"My story illustrates that St. Mark’s Bookshop may in fact be a place that can induce low-grade miracles, such as directing young morons to their calling. It should remain open so others may experience what I did, all the while doing that most important of human activities, reading."
Between his plea for a beleaguered NYC indie bookstore and his sonnet joke earlier this week, Rob Delaney is really building his campaign for Official Comedian Of This Blog. (Though it doesn't hurt him that the much-herein-invoked "30 Rock" is on hiatus right now.) I hear he is also writing a book of his own?

22 September 2011

"It takes great discipline to stay sloppy drunk for three hours and still be smart and engaging. I bet you’ve never achieved that. (If you think you have, your memory is lying.) So raise a brimming glass to Elevator Repair Service, which exists in what appears to be a state of perpetual and severe intoxication for the entirety of 'The Select (The Sun Also Rises),' which opened Sunday night at the New York Theater Workshop."

--Anyone want to let Ben Brantley in on the "secret" that that's likely not real alcohol up there onstage? Here's my review of the same show, which may commit errors but at least not that one.

21 September 2011

O frabjeous etc.

The New York Public Library now supports e-book lending to Kindles. I can't wait to play with this (read: I have no substantial review at the moment, sorry).

Filmbook: Sympathy for Jane Austen

A couple weeks ago I rewatched the second half of "Becoming Jane" because it was on TV and one of my roommates was watching. I never wrote about it here, so thank goodness I dug up an email from 2007 in which I reviewed it thus:
I don't think I've seen another movie recently that fit my expectations so exactly. It was kind of sweet, kind of silly, kind of sad and kind of ridiculous. Anne Hathaway does a really good job, but the whole thing is kind of bleh... I had read it is kind of depressing, but... well, it's depressing for those women, but hey, it's not the 19th century any more, so great!
There was also a bit in there about the relative attractiveness of James McAvoy but I have deleted it because that is not the topic of this blog.

Now that I have leveled up and unlocked more feelings I see that this movie is, in fact, extremely depressing, particularly when (like my roommate) you don't know anything about Austen's life. (She kept asking me what was going to happen and I wouldn't tell her.) For all the sisters' lives in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE are constrained, they at least have some small thrilling adventures that don't end in humiliation and resignation. And all this over a relationship we aren't 100 percent sure that Austen actually had.

My first title for this post was "Breaking: Writer had hard life," but that's not really my point. In some ways, Austen's life was hard, but to figure out how she felt about it would take more research than I have done -- and what's extant? The letters? Letters tell all versions of the truth. But what a bizarre premise for a romantic drama, even one that probably looked like a balance-sheet shoo-in with the Jane Austen name attached. I couldn't even entertain it as an enjoyably sad movie.

I guess it's possible that I am attributing too many 21st-century expectations to Miss Austen (I wrote Ms. first! and then I deleted it), that the freedoms I take for granted would even be something she would want if given the chance. Of course she would want to leave her parents' house, I think, and live alone. And leave the house in the company of a non-related male without being considered "ruined." (By this standard, and this standard alone, I trashed my reputation at about age 8 riding bikes with my best friend at the time. He's a lawyer now! And I am still a writer.) And marry someone without thinking about the economics of the arrangement. Etc.

Mostly I felt, as I felt the last time I watched "Becoming Jane," happy that I live in the 21st century, and also guilty for feeling that way.

20 September 2011

"The upwardly moral children of the bourgeoisie are obsequiously, uncompromisingly virtuous. They ride bikes everywhere. They never eat meat. They refuse to watch television. They eat with wooden chopsticks. They only read books by authors named Jonathan who live in Brooklyn. They themselves are named Jonathan and live in Brooklyn. That is because everyone who is good and just and whip-smart and special in this society lives in Brooklyn."

Joe Queenan in the Wall Street Journal.

Who's a genius? You are!

...If your name is A.E. Stallings (poet), Peter Hessler (journalist) or Kay Ryan (former Poet Laureate), recipients all of the MacArthur Genius Grant as of this morning.

19 September 2011

Brooklyn Book Festival 2011

Books I most want to read from having seen their authors live: Karen Russell, SWAMPLANDIA and Michael Dickman, FLIES. Russell read from a soon-to-be-published short story called "A Family Restaurant"; Dickman read some of his poems, and did you know, he has a twin brother who is also a poet?
Best reader of the festival (that I saw): Elissa Schappell. I feel as though it would be a slight to say that she was dramatic as she read from her collection BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS but will you accept that she had stage presence?
Best mustache of the festival (that I saw): Jim Shepard. Monumental.
Best news from the comics panel: Kate Beaton of Hark! a Vagrant fame (also: GREAT GATSBYS, Dude Watchin' With The Brontes) will be cohosting a monthly comedy show here.
How to run a good panel at 10AM: Talk about dudes in kilts! (That was Diana Gabaldon on the influence of "Doctor Who" on her work, which is to say, it hasn't much.)
How to run a not-so-good panel at 10AM: Skip any discussion in favor of readings that lilt on softly... oh, so softly...
New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller authors met: One, Tom Perrotta, who spoke softly and briefly about battling back his mother's voice in his head telling him he couldn't write things. He read a passage in his new book THE LEFTOVERS from the perspective of a teenage girl, and I appreciated all over again how nuanced and non-histrionic I found that character's writing. Even her friend, the described-by-Perrotta "sexy teenager," has layers. It's a terrific book.

Books I brought with me to the festival: Just one, Amitav Ghosh's RIVER OF SMOKE (it's really long).
Best non-programming addition to the BKBF: Food trucks. It's obvious, right?
Panels hit: 7
Bookend events attended: The aforementioned Community Bookstore 40th Anniversary celebration, where I saw Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss all read in an unexpectedly cavernous church on a cloudy afternoon. I don't know how they picked their readings, but in Krauss' case, it was suggested that she had bought the book at the store itself (she and JSF live nearby, and if you do enough digging you can figure out where). This bookstore is not the closest to me, but it is the best closest to me, whose feats include handselling a pre-publication copy of THE PALE KING to me over Twitter, which is just spectacular service. Happy birthday! And many more.
Major and minor regrets: The parties I missed on Thursday/Friday nights; that Fran Lebowitz/ Wallace Shawn panel everyone was raving about. Did anyone notice that there wasn't an n+1 presence at the fest as there has been in previous years?
Brooklyn Book Fests attended by me: 5 (here's last year's recap. Without really intending to, this shaped up to be something of an alternative year for me; I didn't hit any ticketed panels because I didn't feel like waiting in line, so, I didn't, and I made it to (as mentioned above) panels featuring poetry, comics/graphic novelists and sci-fi/fantasy novelists, which is a broader scope than I usually take. It was quite pleasant!

Literary things I did while writing this post: Thought about buying a Joan Didion/ Sloane Crosley lecture ticket (is $25 too much?) (but I mean, DIDION); grew irritated at the New Yorker subscriber site for making me re-log in to that Dickman brothers article after nearly every page; wondered what I would ask Adam Rapp if I ever saw him again; realized I forgot to pick up my copy of THE DESCENDANTS at the library and now it's expired, shoot.
Literary thing I ate tonight: An "American Globs" ice cream cone at the new Big Gay Ice Cream store in the East Village named for, obviously, Neil Gaiman. It was good but I should have gone for one of the cones with dulce de leche.
Did I buy it on purpose? No; the girl at the counter recommended it because of the pretzels.
Had I left the store when I got the reference? Not yet!
Person to blame that this post is so late: Lance Armstrong.

18 September 2011

I'm at the Brooklyn Book Festival all day today, and if you want to know more about that you had best find me on Twitter. Updates will be more frequent than usual, but judicious. (Sidebar: This is my first "hometown" festival, which I note so I can have A Moment about it later, but I'll say... so far, so good. Although last weekend someone referred to me as "making the trek" from Brooklyn to East 19th Street, which was hilarious. All the way where?!)

In case you need diversion, I recommend Julie Klausner's recent interview with David Rakoff on her podcast "How Was Your Week?" in which he talks about his beginnings as a writer. You can stream it from this page directly (it's the episode "Shelf of Justice").

Also, congratulations to BUNNICULA author James Howe on his marriage.

17 September 2011

"That was embarrassing. And bound to show up in someone's novel about
5 years from now."
--a Community Bookstore rep about the mic snafu at its 40th
anniversary reading. It's cool, guys! Only a Manhattanite, judging by
the chatter around me, would think a wee technical difficulty worthy
of mention. We're good here.

16 September 2011

I'm so proud of @Undrminr for coming back with a strong tweet. Look at you! You wrote a thing! 3,851 more to @SHAQ!

(Seriously, cocreator Mike Albo just came out with a Kindle Single called THE JUNKET, "based on a true story," and you should all buy and enjoy it. That I haven't had the chance to read it yet is 100% my own fault.)

Top 5 Books I Want To Reread Right Now

(but all I have time to do is write a blog post about them)
  • Betty Smith, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (since last year, apparently?)
  • Ernest Hemingway, THE SUN ALSO RISES (see: Tuesday)
  • John Feinstein, HARD COURTS (since I went to the U.S. Open)
  • Jonathan Franzen, THE CORRECTIONS (since: I read FREEDOM, probably)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, THE GREAT GATSBY (perennial)

15 September 2011

This is a shameless plugging post: Because I keep posting about it anyway, you should go read my official review of HOUSE OF HOLES over on The A.V. Club. I also wrote over there about Kevin Mitnick's memoir GHOST IN THE WIRES, whose negative review is probably the reason I keep mysteriously popping keys on my laptop at home. It's aliiiiiiive!

Paper, work

When did unfinished page edges (like this illustration, but on a recently published book) come into vogue, and who brought them there? I find them a little irritating for reasons I can't put my finger on but am getting used to their use, unlike the first time I was exposed to them (I believe on my Robert Fagles translation of THE ODYSSEY in high school?) when I found them messy.

I get what publishers are trying to evoke, but I guess I don't understand why. Seems like a frill. I was led down this path of inquiry while reading 2 books, 1 with the rough-cut pages, the other in which a character is described cutting the pages of a new George Eliot novel in such detail that it made me wish I had (slash would ever have) that experience, though the idea of needing a knife to carry along with me to read is a bit of overkill. What would I do with it on the subway?

14 September 2011

Short Reviews Of Recent Memoirs

  • Jason Mulgrew, EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH ME: Where's the book by this dude's dad? Because that guy, as described here, should not be alive.
  • Rick Moody, THE BLACK VEIL: "And to this day, I'm still addicted to italics." 
  • Hilary Winston, MY BOYFRIEND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT ME: Better and funnier without him. (Eventually.)
  • Caitlin Shetterly, MADE FOR YOU AND ME: "My husband, kid and I had to move back in with my mom which proves the American Dream has gone missing. But at least I didn't get fat!
  • Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, THE CHAIRS ARE WHERE THE PEOPLE GO: 100% pure mansplain. 

13 September 2011

What would Hemingway drink?

The Vintage Anchor Tumblr posts a top 10 list of alcohol-fueled novels. I just saw a terrific play called "The Select" based on #5 THE SUN ALSO RISES, and after watching fictional people drink for three and a half hours I felt a little drunk myself. Also, I wondered for the 85th literature-related time what Pernod tastes like. GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT reeks with the stuff.

While we're mentioning Hemingway (who has been on my mind a lot recently) I keep going to bars that offer a "Hemingway daiquiri" and ordering it because I have doubts about its authenticity. First, it's hard to imagine Hemingway ordering something called a daiquiri, as I can barely get the word out with a straight face. It is a Miami-housewife-from-the-50s word. And second, what's so particular about it? It's just a daiquiri with no fruit flavor, or if you like, a margarita with rum instead of tequila. Food & Wine cites William Grimes referring to these as "lime slurpees"; Rumdood.com (...I know) traces it back to a bar in Havana Hemingway (I will not refer to him as Papa, please, thanks) used to frequent and says you need crushed ice to make it authentic. Now crushed ice, I can get behind, but the ones I have consumed so far did not have crushed ice in them, but were margarita-green and served in martini glasses.

The martini glass seems to be the worst affront, for it is not a practical glass. But this article on Liquor.com with its emphasis on the tartness of the so-called Hemingway daiquiri makes me think I was getting the wrong drink all along, and should have been imbibing something more in the gimlet way. (I'm a big fan of gimlets, and it's hard to get a decent one.) Or maybe they were the wrong limes. Maybe we should be asking how Hemingway was as prolific as he was if he spent all his time fussing at bartenders... or else he wasn't that picky.

Anyway, my wavering investigations into the topic suggest one should order a Dark & Stormy instead; it suits everybody. Or a caipirinha if it's available.

TIME's 100 Best Nonfiction Books: A real smattering.

They really try to bury it (gotta get 'em clicks!!!) but here's the complete list on 1 page so you don't have to endure through a Slideshow of Doom.

Assorted notes in vague list order: 
  • First, if excerpts counted I could add another 10-15 easy to my count, but I'm stuck here at 20. Not great, considering that this list is far less moldy than the Modern Library one. 
  • Happy to see Stephen King's ON WRITING and Bill Bryson's A WALK IN THE WOODS on there.
  • I read THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X when I was way too young. Waaaaaaay too young. 
  • True library confession: I reserved AND THE BAND PLAYED ON at the library after seeing "The Normal Heart" on Broadway but balked because of its giant hardcover size. Bad ally. I'll buy it on Kindle, I promise!
  • Most recent pick that I saw: Siddhartha Muhkerjee's THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES. Highly recommended.
  • I would have thought THE BIG BOOK of AA fame was not available to purchase wherever, but so it is.
  • Was very surprised by the sports section, including the fact that there is one. 

12 September 2011

Why Amazon "Pay With Points" Is Overrated

I have an Amazon Rewards credit card I use for the sweet, sweet reward points. I'm pretty happy with it; I do most of my Christmas shopping on the site as well as hard-to-find books and of course Kindle downloads. (Also, they were willing to extend credit to me when I was working freelance jobs and barely had a credit history, so I'm thankful for that.) I think some of you might also have a card like this or think about getting one, which is why I'm going slightly out of bounds to talk about their rewards program.

Amazon has the most useful rewards program I seem to be able to qualify for, but there is a hitch...  The normal procedure for redeeming those points is by "buying" an Amazon gift certificate off the credit card's website, which is kind of a hassle in that you have to click through to purchase it, then wait about a week to get the paper certificate, then enter the code from the paper into your Amazon account. Absurd, because isn't this one of the fabled dot-com companies that taught Americans no one would steal all their moneys if they shopped online? There's got to be an easier way! 

So when they rolled out "Shop With Points," which would supposedly let you bypass that "wait for a lil' piece of paper" step, I was excited... until I figured out that you can't use them for everything. Specifically, you can't use them for Kindle e-books, which is my most frequent purchase on Amazon these days now that I am trying to shop local more for my dead-tree needs. There are no such restrictions on Amazon gift certificates. (It also doesn't work on Amazon Fresh [groceries/homegoods] or Subscribe and Save [magazines], for those to whom that may apply.)

Not only that, I didn't notice that I wasn't drawing from my points until I had already bought 3-4 e-books with actual cash. I think there should have been a pop-up alerting me to this step, instead of me merrily 1-Clicking my way to financial Armageddon (exaggeration). The benefit to having those rewards was that I could use them on anything, as opposed to a gift certificate to a clothing store or a book store or some other specialty store -- but this is closing me off.

While we're at it, why is 1-Click the only option for e-books anyway? Is it unimaginable that someone would want to save an e-book to purchase later? Because hey, I just imagined it!

This has been your slightly disappointed Kindle consumer advocate, signing off.

10 September 2011

Just another day at the farm

I picked up A RAGE TO LIVE after reading and enjoying John O'Hara's Modern Library entry APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA, which I had taken from its title to be something in the post-colonial arena but turned out to be a dark drama among the boozy country-club set in rural Pennsylvania. But I stuck with A RAGE TO LIVE, through its occasionally action-free swaths, because of the promise of its first chapter, maybe the best lead-off I've read all year.

The first chapter locates the action in similar country as APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA, albeit in a more rural setting. A prominent small-town (contradiction implied) couple, the Tates, is hosting the governor for a charitable function on their impressive farm. Mrs. Tate is the local offspring and inheritor to the farm, the former (but some would say still) town beauty who married up and imported her college-educated husband out there to become a "gentleman farmer." It's a bucolic scene, whose tiny dramas here and there (a sick girl, a dispute among local law enforcement about patrols) only reinforce its general peace, and at the end of the night, duties discharged, Mr. Sidney Tate turns to Mrs. Grace Caldwell Tate in bed and says:
"This place won't be the same without me, will it? But when I'm gone will you still be wondering how much I know, how much I've guessed, Grace? Good night." 
Aaaand... off to the races. Until this bombshell, the reader believes (in absence of any evidence to the contrary) that the Tates' marriage is a happy one; afterward, no one will believe that it had been happy even for an instant. The rest of A RAGE TO LIVE travels back and forth from the time of the implosion of the Tates' marriage. Through one lens it's a lurid morality tale; another, a wide-angle study of a town over decades and how modern life creeps in. But I pressed forward, ever forward with this book, to figure it out.

It's hard to say whether O'Hara, working here, is acting as a pulp novelist accessing higher themes or a highbrow literary lion digging into the muck of bad behavior. His presence on the Modern Library list at all suggests the latter, but there's something about his specificity and almost-glee in reproducing, say, the conversation of two wealthy men about the prostitutes they're hiring, suggesting that what he really wants is to write the kind of trashy novel one might wrap a better book's book jacket around. On the other hand, his reproduction of these conversations is so pitch-perfect as to affirm his seriousness... or does it?

What's clear is that this book was substantially longer than APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA and kept its lurid promise all the way through. What Grace is accused of, while not that shocking, is characterized as an attack on everyone in the decent Christian town of Fort Penn, moreso that she refuses to admit to any wrongdoing. (The hilariously sensationalized copy on my vintage paperback, a tie-in for the 1965 movie starring Ben Gazzara, makes her out to be somewhat different -- the modern version would be something like "MILF On The Loose!!!") It's a terrific book to read continuously but might lose some of its draw when broken up. Finally, a source of delight to me, O'Hara was wildly prolific and there will be a good deal of his books in my reading future.

09 September 2011

Spotted on the subway

But is it pronounced "real-lee-ohn-air" or "rill-lee-ohn-air"?

10 Celebrities Whose Names Are Not Used As Sexual Euphemisms in Nicholson Baker's New Novel HOUSE OF HOLES

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell...

Wilt Chamberlain
Mata Hari
Mae West
Pope Pius
Jessica Alba
Justin Timberlake
Bette Midler
Jim Morrison

(Also, I would give you context re. Gladwell, but there really isn't any, except to say that there is definitely a TIPPING POINT joke about 2 pages before, so I win. And apparently when you write an entire book of graphic sex scenes, at the rate of about 1.5 per page, you run out of euphemisms faster.)

(Somewhat related, whoever wrote the press release for this book -- Alexis and Margaret at Simon and Schuster? -- should get some kind of reward. I'm going to keep this press release forever.)

08 September 2011

Man Booker Prize Shortlist Released

The spin in Britain is that Alan Hollinghurst didn't make the list. I'm a huge fan and can't wait to get to his new book THE STRANGER'S CHILD, but I don't think he's crying into his Earl Grey. Meanwhile, I don't understand the Julian Barnes preoccupation and my random whim professional judgment and premonitory leanings to read PIGEON ENGLISH continue to pay off. Here's the full list:

  • THE SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes
  • JAMRACH'S MENAGERIE by Carol Birch
  • THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick deWitt
  • HALF BLOOD BLUES by Esi Edugyan
  • PIGEON ENGLISH by Stephen Kelman
  • SNOWDROPS by AD Miller

File under: Francophilia, repeated consonants, words that have no direct English translation

Today's Merriam-Webster word of the day is a strong choice. (In case you prefer Spanish the equivalent verb is tutear.) (Nerd party!)

07 September 2011

File under: loneliness, Japan, cats

Do you like Haruki Murakami? If you're willing to like him on Facebook you can read the first chapter of his new book 1Q84.

Filmbook: "One Day" (2011, dir. Lone Scherfig)

In case you haven't been pressed to read it yet, David Nicholls' 2009 novel follows the relationship of Emma and Dexter, college classmates who have a fling the night of graduation and then stay in touch over the next 20 years, through bad jobs (mostly hers), flashes of fame (mostly his), lovers, moves and deaths. Each year receives a chapter in the book, which allows Scherfig in the film adaptation to play at onscreen supertitles that bounce and float over each year's new scene, with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as the friends, etcetera who you watch slowly growing old.

The character of Dexter is extremely effective because he represents the fusion of two types of people that hang around in people's lives, both of which happen to be popular archetypes in romantic storylines: He's the friend who you've known for so long you can say the same things over and over to each other and have the conversation still be meaningful, and he's the friend on whose account you always wonder, "What if?" Taken together this is an extremely potent arrangement. Unfortunately as written by Nicholls he's also a selfish manchild, the kind Nick Hornby characters are often accused of being (slash are, if you don't like Nick Hornby I guess).

That Dexter and Emma stayed in touch thereafter seems like a minor miracle from the vantage of this technologically cozy age. In the book I thought it was made clearer, although the movie only winks at it, that Emma is doing most of the heavy lifting there, an observation for which I either want to pat Nicholls on the back or kick his ass because of the problematic wish-fulfillment this sets up for the man and woman in the novel... but I digress.

Dexter has been niced up some for Lone Scherfig's adaptation (with Nicholls' screenplay, so it's not like he wouldn't have known about it), which didn't bother me because it wasn't too extreme. Some other faint praise: This movie is pretty, as befits a romance, and the flashes and tableaus that looked out of place in "The Help" were fitting here; even the ending is rendered in a way that makes it almost beautiful. Scherfig's camera zips and lingers along with (befitting) the plot, and there are a lot of fun subtle nods to the passage of time, particularly the karaoke scene. The in-role aging of the characters is realistic and not distracting, and it's always nice to see Romola Garai getting work (here as Dexter's rich, flighty girlfriend with the weird family).

The prettiness isn't enough to save it, though. Hathaway, an actor I like more than a lot of people I know who griped about her casting, is a major distraction in the first third because of her all-over-the-place accent and "Hollywood ugly." (In which beautiful woman + glasses + frizzy hair = not attractive.) More seriously, Sturgess and Hathaway have more chemistry on the poster above than they do in the entire movie. This is a highly personal judgment and maybe it has nothing to support it other than a feeling, but the needle, it doth not move.

And bigger than all that -- I predicted at some point that I would like this movie better than the book, and I was correct! But I'm not sure whether it was because what really rattled me about the book had already been spoiled for me before I got to the movie, so I didn't have to have that moment again. (I was looking for my review of it on here when I remembered that I had produced it back in January for a website that put me through 2 rounds of edits and then stopped returning my emails, of course not paying me for any of my time.) Yet even as I disliked the book there was a catharsis in it that the movie either doesn't try to attempt, or doesn't pull off. I felt a little sad at its end, and then I felt nothing, which was worse than feeling sad.

Filmbook verdict: When I walked out of this movie I was prepared to say, see the movie, don't read the book. But now I feel so tepid about the whole thing I'd say, don't bother.

06 September 2011

Damn you, autocorrect

Dear Microsoft Word,

Stop changing it to HOUSE OF HOLDS. It was funny the first time, now I'm just stressed out.

Summer Reading 2011 Wrap-Up

Guys! A really exciting thing happened this summer!

I started "Parks and Rec" over and I finally got to the first Rob Lowe/ Adam Scott episode! "Is there a not-gay way to ask him to go camping with me?" Wait wait, wrong internet.

There was a funny article a few weeks ago on Salon.com where authors were asked what books they really read this summer, not the ones they had aspirations to finish. Not surprising, they (including Tom Perrotta, Laura Hillenbrand, and debut novelist Amy Waldman) all still got a lot accomplished even if it wasn't Proust!

Sailing through this summer without a list was easier than I expected. I still read just as much, maybe even a hair more than last summer, and I read a fair amount of random stuff. I'm also pretty far along in 2666, and that was my major project. The part where I've really fallen down was blogging about them, so if you're wondering why I am still writing about books that I finished months ago... hey, we're not on a strict editorial schedule here.

That said, I'd probably write another list next summer. It's just how I roll. Should I make a fall reading list? What was the best thing you read all summer? 

05 September 2011

The hype bites back

I spent the first third, at least, of THE TIGER'S WIFE trying to figure out what it was "about." What author Téa Obreht was "up to." I wish I could have that time back, because while I was trying to determine whether I was being outfoxed I could have been enjoying myself a lot more. At some point I succumbed to the book's spell (as cheesy as it is: this happened) and I was a lot happier, deeper into the story and more mystified (in a good way) thereafter.

Let me start by saying if it assuages your fears, that there is a literal tiger in this book (though not in the present), it is not imaginary and it enacts real damage. (Now I'm thinking about CHRONIC CITY again. I should probably write Jonathan Lethem an apology one of these days.) The tiger figures into the stories Natalia, a 20something doctor in an unnamed Balkan city in the former Yugoslavia, was told as a child by her grandfather. Grandfather, who has just died on a trip out of town, was also a doctor and he and Natalia were very close, so she knows what the family doesn't -- that he was sneaking around to conceal his cancer and treatments from his wife -- but she doesn't know what he was doing out of town on the day of his death. Preparing to cross the border on a humanitarian mission to vaccinate orphans, Natalia hopes to find out while she's out there what her grandfather was doing out there just before he died, even if she can't tell anyone.

If I had to describe this book as being "about" anything, it's "about" a small Balkan town in which the narrator's grandfather grew up, and the tiger that menaces it one winter, and how they deal with that.  The narrator's grandfather tells her this story at some indeterminately young age, and she retells it to us intercut with her present-day trip and the confrontations she has with locals there. So in a bigger sense, it's "about" what the stories we tell and are told say about us, and the extent to which we look to them to shape our lives, which turns out to be quite a lot in this case. When I write that, it just sounds so hokey, but this book is full of mysteries; it's a fair amount like that other book by that other wunderkind, Jonathan Safran Foer's EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, in that respect. (But no Alex! Which is too bad because he's a premium dancer and all the girls want to be carnal with him.)

Obreht is able to bring across the kinship Natalia feels for her grandfather, the void his absence creates in her, without making either of them perfect; stemming from her remorse over his death is the fact that they weren't very close for most of the war, nor was Natalia involved in the war itself, being mostly concerned with going out with her fellow students. Her humanitarian trip is a way of making amends (to her view), an effort not universally welcomed.

THE TIGER'S WIFE received such elaborate praise as that casts suspicion over the book industry as a whole, but any author placed on the New Yorker 20 under 40 list before having a book come out would. I can't say definitively whether she "deserves" to be on this list as there are, oh, hundreds of thousands of writers who would fall into that age group, and I can't have read any significant share of them. I will be eagerly anticipating her next book, which I will probably fight again for the narrative it's trying to spin, only maybe next time I will surrender sooner.

04 September 2011

"8. You must keep moving. The reason I was able to send out so much work was also that I was constantly writing new stuff all the time and sending that out and firing and firing. While part of my goal might have been to get something ready to go out, the real value was that it gave me an arrow in the butt to keep writing. The subsequent frustration that is practically unavoidable also, if harnessed in the right way, can lead to you 'giving less of a fuck' and maybe in the process finding out what you really want to say, or how to get in the way to say it."
-Blake Butler, 22 Things I Learned From Submitting Writing

03 September 2011

August Unbookening With Special Guest Endorsement

"I now fully realize the value of and will never snark at you ever again when you do this: de-booking." (From a special correspondent who was moving earlier this year.) These are words that warm hearts, folks.

Well, it's good that I can set a good example at least 'cause I sure didn't do any better this month:

Borrowed from a friend: 2
Got to review: 6
Checked out of the library: 6
Brought from home: 1
Bought: 6
Received from Bookmooch: 1
22 in

Lent to a friend: 1
Checked in: 8
Donated: 8
17 out

I feel like I have to make this post worthwhile for the 1.64 of you checking in on a holiday weekend. (Hey, I'm not judging! I didn't go anywhere.) So okay, blogging preview, I am now the proud owner-borrower of all 3 volumes of the HUNGER GAMES series. Yes, soon we will all understand what all the fuss is about, or we will go away unsatisfied -- but definitely one of those two things will occur. Thanks for reading.

02 September 2011

The Brooklyn Book Festival lineup has posted. Thank goodness.

Edit: There's a panel called "From Wisconsin With Love," about organized labor (reflecting the protests of earlier this year). I was hoping for a Jane Hamilton/ Peter Straub*/ Neil Gaiman**/ Lorrie Moore***/ Chad Harbach quintuple feature, but this is also good.

*Not sure if he still lives there, but he was born there.
**"Near Minneapolis" my ass!
***Well, she lives there now, so.
"I lived in a world of words long before I was aware of it. As an only child I turned to books as soon as I could read. There was a persistent need not only to write, but to publish. In grade school I had an essay published in the mimeographed paper, and that led me directly to a hectograph, a primitive publishing toy with a tray of jelly. You wrote in a special purple ink, the jelly absorbed it, and you could impress it on perhaps a dozen sheets of paper before it grew too faint. With this I wrote and published the Washington Street News , which I solemnly delivered to some neighbors as if it existed independently of me. I must have been a curious child."
--Roger Ebert, from the first chapter of his memoir

01 September 2011


  • Finishing one book without another on hand 
  • Missing your stop on the subway
  • Bookmarks, absence of
  • Knowing you'll never be one of those people who leaves the house with just a wallet or a little clutch, and no reading material
  • Feeling guilty about library fines
  • Abrupt, shell-shocky endings
  • Forming the crease in the paperback's spine
  • Being so generally engrossed that you miss other things going on around you, like I don't know, earthquakes
  • Paper cuts
  • Staying up too late... all the time