31 August 2011

Big Book Double Edition

Regular Commenter Elizabeth sent me this article on Facebook via Flavorwire: "10 Novels That We Dare You To Finish." It's pegged to PARALLEL STORIES, a novel coming out this fall I have, yes, already requested to review because I like punishment.

I've read four of the books listed -- INFINITE JEST, A SUITABLE BOY, GONE WITH THE WIND and WAR AND PEACE, plus excerpts from REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST (but probably wouldn't add up to one of its nine volumes). ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES I definitely intend to get along to, along with the rest of Proust. (Seriously, I still own my copies from college, refuse to sell them, but also make them live in exile with my parents. So I'm ambivalent. Maybe next year?)

Henry Darger gives me the creeps, frankly. Maybe if I make it through that documentary about him first...

Oh yeah, and while I was there, Facebook's new time-machine function dug up the following:

Never forget. If you still haven't gotten around to it you can still go back and read my review.

Filmbook-to-Be: Cast So Far For Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" (2012?)

  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby 
  • Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway
  • Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan
  • Joel Edgerton (Australian, nothing looks familiar in his bio) as Tom Buchanan 
  • Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson 
This post is mostly for Blogmigo Wade Garrett if he's out there because we were discussing it and couldn't come up with who had been cast as the Nick Carraway. What, Paul Rudd wasn't available? That is a shame.

30 August 2011

The part about the murders

Today we had a blood drive at the office. It was held in one of those
mobile donation buses and afterward I was held in the front of the bus
for 15 minutes in case I fainted or something.

The driver asked me I was reading and I showed him my
still-nice-but-beginning-to-show-wear copy of 2666.

"What's it about?"

"It's about Mexico...and a bunch of people who end up there."

"Mexico!" he said. "We don't want to go _there_ anymore."

What Doesn't Kill You... In Drew Magary's THE POSTMORTAL

It's been a while since I've read a book as dark and hopeless as THE POSTMORTAL. For all its faults, I have to give it some credit for being so appreciably grim, not that that's new territory for a dystopia, but even for that it gave me the total creeps.

The novel posits that in the near future, a scientist working on an Alzheimer's drug accidentally invents an immortality treatment that causes people who take it to stay at the same age they are, and never get older -- so they can't die of "natural causes." This becomes known as "the cure" and becomes so popular on the black market that the President is forced to legalize it just to keep people from buying false toxic products.

Part of the "fun" of this book is exploring just how the world goes to hell in a scenario where people take "the cure," and the benefits are fast outweighed by the drawbacks. For one thing, and I'd never thought of this, the extra burden to the planet's natural resources created by having that many more people around (and in some cases them having second families decades after their first, because they can! Because they're still young!) is an environmental disaster. Our guide through this horrible future is John Farrell, a lawyer (at first) whose firm invents the "cycle marriage," effectively a marriage with an expiration date for people who didn't know when they said "forever" that it was going to actually be forever, and that causes a lot of social problems. He helps build the world not by being super naive and annoying, but on the survival level: If you're going to live forever and you have to quit your job, you can't retire -- so what other jobs can you take? What industries are open to you? And what if, having gotten the cure, you decide you don't want to live forever any more?

THE POSTMORTAL is frequently weird and sometimes gross, but it does kind of a sideways-step toward questions of medical ethics that I wouldn't have expected -- which is why I can't say I was entirely comforted when I closed the book and it was over.

29 August 2011

Mike Birbiglia For Thurber Prize 2011

So excited that comedian Birbiglia is up for the Thurber Prize for humor writing this year. He'll have to beat David Rakoff and Rick Reilly (...people still think he's funny?) but I am optimistic about his chances.

If you didn't have the chance to see his show "Sleepwalk With Me" (about sleepwalking, and also growing up and parents and Walla Walla, Washington ["You can't make me speak Spanish!"]) he compiled those stories and many more into the book of the same name. He's also touring a new show called "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend."

28 August 2011


I never miss an excuse to go over to the Strand and  when I got notified that my requested books were in, that was reason enough to run over. (I know, I know... but they were reasoned purchases.)

I rode the elevator down from the office with a guy who could have been John Hodgman's twin. Same slightly slumped posture, same haircut, nearly the same glasses. (I suppose it might have been the guy himself, but that's an extremely outside chance. Extremely.) He was wearing a brown and white checked shirt and he held the front door open for me. I turned right to cross the street, and so did he. Then I went north, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him again.

"I bet he's going to the Strand," I thought, and wasn't surprised when as soon as I walked in I spotted him up ahead of me. He was heading to the basement, as was I; I bumped into him later ribboning through the Half Price New Hardcovers. I wanted to say something to him the third time, something like, "What are you shopping for?" or "Love this place." But for a couple of reasons, I didn't.

When I go to the supermarket, I don't look at the other customers and think, "They're just like me! Because they also like to eat and prepare their own food." When I am standing in line at a coffee shop I don't think, "That girl also likes iced lattes, therefore we should be best friends." So maybe I shouldn't treat book shopping as any different, it's just another expression of my personality through buying stuff... and yet... I still believe that the books I own say something more critical about me than the contents of my fridge or the dregs in my mug. And that someone would choose to go book shopping on her or his lunch hour, no matter that anyone can do it, says something significant about that person. Maybe my priorities aren't in order.

27 August 2011

Neither snow nor sleet nor, uh, earthquake, nor, uh, what the f-

Here in New York City, as you might have heard, we're about to descend into a Valley of Inclement Weather whose exit is uncertain. So in case we get warshed away, there's about a week of blog posts left to go before we crank to a stop. By the end of that, either we'll have power (and INTERNET) back or we'll see you on the news!

Play us off Scary Tom Waits:

26 August 2011

Impossible game Friday

Pick your favorite group of the following groups of 3 writers:

  • T. Coraghessan Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates and George Saunders
  • Chang-rae Lee, Tim O’Brien, and ZZ Packer
  • Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, and Yiyun Li
  • Jeffrey Eugenides, Nicole Krauss, and Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Karen Russell, Gary Shteyngart, and Colson Whitehead

It's like eating at the best restaurant ever. How can I decide?!

I didn't just make them up; these are the New Yorker Festival writer panels as announced so far (from a list in the Observer).

25 August 2011

Hurricane Preparation For Nerds

Edited for typos and to add punctuation.

ME: that is my plan -- make a thermos, get some books, hunker down
COWORKER: I have another 500 pgs of GAME OF THRONES to plow through
ME: ahahahaha. You're all set then.
COWORKER: yep. And when I'm done w/ that I can read the next book in the series
which is probably like 800 something [pages]. As long as my Kindle doesn't die...
ME: oh nooo. You can't rely on it. Paperbacks my friend!
COWORKER: I have a few at home to get through as well. Not as exciting but if i must... when in doubt... I could reread the entire HARRY POTTER series...
ME: a few?! I thought you were a nerd
COWORKER: Yea but all my books are home on Long Island, not in my tiny apt
ME: :(
COWORKER: for real
ME: I'm blogging all this. It's ok, I will hide your name so no one has to know you are reading George RR Martin
COWORKER: haha, I look forward to reading it. WINTER IS COMING. Also rain.

Return of Shakar

(Also, the 9/11 novel, and some advice from Susan Choi.)

There was a moment last month when everybody was talking about author Alex Shakar and his essay "The Year Of Wonders." Ten years ago Shakar was a wunderkind* novelist with a six-figure advance and a coveted September pub date for his debut THE SAVAGE GIRL, feeling all the high highs of that status -- followed by the low lows as first his editor died, and then the September 11th attacks just a week before he was set to go on book tour mowed down any momentum the book might have had.

"My very loss was meaningless compared to those who’d lost for real," Shakar writes. Yet there's something of an undercurrent of anger to the piece, and not (to my mind) entirely undeserved. Who wouldn't want to rail at the heavens with a mighty "It's not fair!!"

As someone who had never heard of Shakar before the piece ran I was just as guilty of what he seemed to be accusing the world of -- and I felt guilty, but also confused. Was everyone passing around his manifesto as an example of how the book industry is vulnerable, or how it is mean? Was there another grudge I was meant to hold? (I'll gladly chalk my ignorance of him not to national events, but rather to the fact that I was a senior in high school, and was too busy either working on college applications or getting grounded again.)

I hoped to study him up close at Shakar's reading last night at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, and sure, I know how creepy that sounds. I found him calm, careful with his words, with a wry smile. And when novelist Susan Choi, who also read with him and served as his interviewer, said to him "Your first book kind of got kicked in the head -- I think that's how you feel," he didn't look sad, maybe a little chagrined. He looked very zen, in fact later alluded to having taken up meditation in the process of researching his new novel LUMINARIUM.

"A novel is sort of a contract with the universe you make," he said. "For many years I felt it wasn't living up to its end of the bargain." 

Whether he wanted to talk about his relationship to 9/11 and more broadly New York or not, the crowd wouldn't let him forget it, particularly when it was dropped that the novel was originally set in Chicago but "became" a New York book, and was set there in the years preceding and following 2001.(Don't we just love talking about ourselves now! Don't we just!) To the latter point, Shakar said he was interested in how people made meaning out of the event, rather than the event itself, but he also alluded to "the 9/11 novel as something everybody had to do" or felt like they should address in fiction (a topic previously covered here).

I haven't read LUMINARIUM yet so I can't speak to its treatment of same, but it was kind of refreshing to hear an author just get that out in the open. Maybe that's the freedom Shakar gains from admitting, hey: this is how it interrupted my life, because along with the macro-interruptions (loss of life, U.S. foreign policy, airport security) there were micro-interruptions as well. At the same time, the compulsion to respond to or describe 9/11 in literature isn't going away. I don't know whether this was by accident, but Choi chose to read a section of her unpublished work that described the day from the perspective of a very young New Yorker. It is written, and then it is written again.


The first two audience questions addressed writing advice and tips, and Choi offered this story from a novel-writing class she just taught (her first): She confidently assigned her students to write 300 words a day, weekends off, for the entire 12-week semester, with the proviso that they had to "file" it with her regularly. (To prevent the whole "stay-up-till-4am-and-write-something-unworkable" pattern of shorter fiction classes. Amen.) The person by whom she ran this plan past said, "Great! So you're going to do it as well?" She tried, but by her own admission, couldn't hack it.

*Actually, looking back at the essay he was 32 when he signed the deal, so let's consider wunderkind more of a feeling than a specific age for the purpose of this post. It's the least I can do.

24 August 2011

I got you a box with nothing inside

Today's Google Doodle honors Jorge Luis Borges who would have been 112 today.

Best first lines to open your bookstore missed connection with

You were looking at magazines,
But nobody is perfect.

Filmbook: "The Help" (2011)

"The Help" is a movie full of expressions that speak louder than words and actors who are better than their material. Maybe because I expected it to be bad and potentially offensive, I found it mild and not offensive but with major tonal problems that caused me to feel very conflicted about what it was I had just seen.

I didn't like Kathryn Stockett's book and the movie essentially repeats the major mistake it makes -- except for one element the book can't replicate, which is really good acting. Emma Stone is really good as Skeeter Phelan, despite being trapped under one of the worst wigs I have ever seen. Octavia Spencer, new to me, as the  oft-defiant Minny was terrific. Bryce Dallas Howard as the reigning Southern belle of Skeeter's small town was... well, you hate her, but you're supposed to, so she's doing her job. Aunjanue Ellis (also new to me) makes a memorable Yula Mae. Allison Janney, who I didn't even realize was in this movie, is great in it in a minor role as Skeeter's mother. Mary Steenburgen is in this movie for about 2 minutes total, as a New York book editor who becomes Skeeter's long-distance mentor, and even in that 30 seconds where she is eating lunch in some swank place flanked by two dudes in suits who seem to both be her dates, she's acting her ass off. (Also, you go get it.)

And the best of them all is Oscar nominee Viola Davis* as Aibileen, who just takes up the entire screen. Viola Davis is in fact so good in this movie I began to fantasize about an alternate third-cinema version of it in which Emma Stone's character asks Davis' character for her assistance (...or her help? Thank you, I'll be here all week!) over and over again, with Davis' character perpetually refusing. The plot doesn't go forward, Skeeter doesn't find another solution to her "problem" of wanting to find an interviewee for her book; she just asks over and over, and Aibileen turns her down. Nowhere is she strongest in this movie as when she is putting debutante-with-a-conscience Skeeter Phelan in her place. Of course this is "silly" from a narrative standpoint because without Aibileen's participation, there essentially is no movie, except the one in my head called "Viola Davis Will Not Help," which will be up for the Academy Award for best movie ever made.

But I digress! Writer-director Tate Taylor (who also played the bondsman in "Winter's Bone") seems to have struggled with balancing the comedic and dramatic elements of the story, and the onscreen evidence suggests he ultimately decided that the best way was to wildly alternate between them. In a matter of minutes the audience is swung wildly from shit jokes (literal) to "We could be killed!!!" As I have been saying too often these days: That is a choice! A wildly ineffective choice for message delivery. But a choice!

This didn't occur to me at the time, but Taylor may have opted for this approach because a straight drama about segregation would be too depressing, too "hard to take" in one go. I don't think "The Help" exactly pats the audience on the head and says "Good job, now we're all better"--and at least it's less deadly earnest than the book and its insistence that the book-within-a-book Saves Lives--but neither of these are satisfying treatments.

Filmbook verdict: For that reason I would recommend you skip both the book and the movie. Not that either of them are the worst things going, but go read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and watch that movie instead. I will hand out spoilers to any and all.

*Roxane Gay wrote a great review of "The Help" for The Rumpus this week from a perspective I don't have, that of an African-American woman, and on her blog she continues the discussion saying, "It is unfair that an actress of Viola Davis’ beauty and caliber has such limited artistic choices... Jennifer Aniston played a maid once, in 'Friends With Money, but in every other movie she’s the hot love interest. Viola Davis never gets to be the hot love interest and yes she’s older now but when she was younger, she never had that chance either. Also, she’s only four years older than Aniston and she’s equally beautiful so why shouldn’t she play the wife in 'Bounty Hunter' or the dentist in 'Horrible Bosses'? Why couldn’t she have gotten the Julianne Moore role in 'Crazy. Stupid. Love.'? Those are terrible movies but it would be great for her have the opportunity to turn those scripts down. It would be great for all actors of color  to have the same opportunities as their white peers."

23 August 2011

Excuses offered by my roommate for not having read "Hamlet" when it was assigned to him in college

  • It's a play and plays are meant to be seen and performed, not read
  • It's too long
  • Shakespeare is really dense
  • He had read some of the other plays already
  • He was depressed
  • It was for a stagecraft class, it wasn't like he had to write a paper on it
  • It was a shitty time in his life
  • He watched the Mel Gibson movie
  • It was a long, cold winter
  • He gave it a shot but only made it through 20 pages
  • It's overrated

22 August 2011

Music Video By The Decemberists Invokes INFINITE JEST's Eschaton

Sorry we need to digest this so we're not doing anything else for the rest of the day.

Video is directed by Michael Schur of "Parks and Recreation" and Mose Schrute fame. Source: NPR's All Songs Considered.

1. The beanies. The beanies!!
2. The bandanna'd one I assume is Jenny Conley, who just returned to the Decemberists' tour after taking most of the summer fighting breast cancer. Don't mess with her.
3. Is it just me or were you also imagining the students at ETA as somewhat older and less conventionally attractive? I mean, the age thing is just a chronological error in my mind but something else is off.
4. For more like this, although without the literary tie-ins, check out the Decemberists' "Sixteen Military Wives" -- probably my favorite song by them.
5. If BHD (bookworm hipster douchebag) could be assessed on a score from 1 to 10, this video would probably get a 9. Agree/disagree?
"A girl’s world is drenched in romance, and the process by which she negotiates that deep emotional need with the countervailing force of sexuality — with all its power, pleasure and danger — is the great work of female adolescence."

Oh Caitlin Flanagan, how can we miss you if you never go away?! 

21 August 2011

What President Obama is reading this summer

Via the L.A. Times

  • Abraham Verghese, CUTTING FOR STONE
  • David Grossman, TO THE END OF THE LAND
  • Daniel Woodrell, THE BAYOU TRILOGY 
  • Isabel Wilkerson, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS
And the National Review adds:
  • Emma Donoghue, ROOM
  • Marianna Baer, FROST
  • Aldous Huxley, BRAVE NEW WORLD

I had earlier read on Twitter that the bookstore the President went to was refusing to release his choices. Like he has anything of which to be ashamed! Maybe he was picking up the HUNGER GAMES trilogy for the kids and felt embarrassed? Maybe he's supposed to not read anything besides his briefings (in which case, not so much a vacation as "work in a different place")? I haven't read any of these but I find the list solid. How about you? 

20 August 2011

Maud Newton's right about two things in her essay "Another Thing To Sort Of Pin On David Foster Wallace": Qualifiers have snuck into our written language recently, and the Internet has a lot to do with it. But I disagree with her diagnosis of this type of language as "soothing." -- I personally find it interruptive at first until I get the hang of the rhythm of it. If anything I strive to eliminate those qualifiers from speaking and let them slide when I'm writing, say, a blog post. (Also to consider: Have qualifiers truly -- ha! -- been sneaking into the written work as a whole, or is it largely confined to online writing? Just because it's more common in this medium doesn't say anything about the medium as a whole. Given how much of, say, INFINITE JEST is from the perspective of one teenager or another, that's a more accurate picture of how they talk and put word pictures together. There are far fewer qualifiers in a work like EVERYTHING AND MORE.) Ultimately, the argument takes a turn into "There is the correct way to write, and then there are the other ways."

19 August 2011

The Sam Lipsyte Visual Fact Check Express

After seeing this cover all over town it occurs to me that the man in the cover, apart from symbolic value, could be seen as holding up the Unisphere, a giant globe statue in Queens. However, the Unisphere is in the eastern part of Queens in Flushing Meadows, and the main character Milo lives and moves around, at least for parts of the book, way west and a bit north in Astoria. Oops.

Next time I see Sam Lipsyte around town (it's happened before!) I might ask him about it, although it was probably out of his control. I could say that this is an unnecessary level of geographic hair-splitting except who am I kidding, I love it. It is the parlor game that never ends.
The New Yorker's Book Bench blog is challenging readers to fill in the blanks of this sentence by William Giraldi: "Wanting to write without wanting to read is like wanting to ____ without wanting to ____."

18 August 2011

Kakutani Fan Club Edict

I think the more relevant answer to the Observer's "Is the New York Times’ toughest book critic single?" is "Who cares!" But that could be said for everyone on the paper's power media elite potentially* single people list.

*Based on personal knowledge** the list is probably 2:1 actually single: in a relationship they cared not to disclose to a fact-checker.
The false promise of immortality built into the never-ending
to-be-read list doesn't have to be all bad. A useful attraction, at
least, when you feel like there is nothing good left in this old world
and you alone in it.

17 August 2011

John Hodgman Has A Plan To Save The Book Industry... Kinda.

"Up high, Jon, literature slam."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Borders Goes Out of Business
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

"It's been a tough couple of years for condescending nerds."

Filmbook: Guest Writer Orrin Konheim On The Top 5 Films Based On Modern Library-Celebrated Novels

Today’s post is by film writer Orrin Konheim whose blog I took over a few weeks ago. I asked to recommend some movies based on books on the Modern Library 100 Novels list. Orrin can also be found at Examiner.com and has a very funny list of things he will do for you for money. (All of which appear to be legal also!) Visit Orrin's personal top 100 films list here. Take it a way:

I took this writing challenge from Ellen because, while not as much of a book reader, I wanted to explore which movies came from great books.

What I found was that most of these films are distinguished by rich storylines that aren’t just moving from beginning to end because the plot necessitates it. They all curiously meander to distant corners and back. The main characters in “A Passage to India” in the beginning of the film are all but forgotten at film’s end in lieu of the more interesting souls that have popped up midway.

Similarly, if “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” were written more like a movie, it would have been more efficient in trimming down stories (i.e. the alcoholic played by Stacy Keach, or the doctor’s estranged daughter) that aren’t critical to the arc of the main character -- but the film doesn’t discriminate. A film that almost made the cut, “All the King’s Men,” suffers from similar overcrowding; one might guess that so much detail is devoted to interesting minor characters in the sources that the screenwriter can’t bear to let them go. On the other hand, “From Here to Eternity” seems to have a fairly even distribution of screentime to its five main characters, but their stories don’t intersect.

Lastly, some films gave me the indication that they were constrained by having to stay faithful to some rich source material because they covered such a long time span. “Brideshead Revisited” seemed as if it covered twenty or thirty years’ time (although it was probably far less: the characters seemed to have aged significantly from the war) while “The Magnificent Ambersons” seems like the longest 88 minutes of film you’ll ever see. Although Sandra Locke is clearly still the same age at the end of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” you get the sense that she’s aged several years at the time.

Here are my picks:

"From Here to Eternity" (1953)
Despite winning the Best Picture Oscar and being known to modern audiences for its kissing scene on the beach, I still view “From Here to Eternity" as a somewhat undiscovered gem. Set at Pearl Harbor in the months before the famous attack, it’s a film (based on a James Jones novel) about the lives and conflicts of officers when there’s no urgency for an attack, and in that sense, it’s more interesting than most war movies. It’s a film that I love and consider among my favorites (in some rudimentary outdated list of my top 100 films of all time, I ranked it 10th), mostly because of its great characters and great performances.

Of the five leads, Montgomery Clift leaves the strongest impression on me as guarded private who we learn is a formidable bugler and boxer but he refuses to do either for his company out of principle. Clift gradually opens up as he befriends a fellow private played by Frank Sinatra who defends him from a sadistic bully (Ernest Borgnine) and attracts the interest of a call girl played by Donna Reed (both Oscar-winning roles) but the stubborn ex-bugler is a tragic figure. Meanwhile, the Captain’s second-in-command (Burt Lancaster) begins a torrid affair with the Captain’s wife (Deborah Kerr) although it's a relationship destined for doom as well. Ed. note: This is of particular interest to me since I just visited the Pearl Harbor historic site for the first time.

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” (1968)
“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” reminds me of a book I read in 10th grade called BOY’S LIFE (by Robert McCammon) in which the quirks and quirky characters of a small-town in the South are deconstructed by a boy as he grows up and loses his innocence. Only this time, it’s a 14-year old girl played by Sandra Locke on her debut. Locke (better known as Clint Eastwood’s future ex-wife) is in my opinion, the most beautiful actress ever and I’ve always had a soft spot for her, but she’s hilariously unconvincing as a 14-year old. (She was apparently 21, but a very mature 21.) Similarly, the casting of the dumb mute as Alan Arkin is equally baffling. Arkin, best-known to modern audiences as the foul-mouthed grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine,” has built a career with his Yiddish-infused deadpan style, so why use him for a role with no dialogue? Despite these impediments, the two stars really shine and elevate the strewn-all-over story to something special.

“A Passage to India” (1984)
I find it ironic that David Lean’s films mostly come from books because his body of work is so purely cinematic. A master of the epic, his visual scope is so large that his films are hardly worth watching unless it’s on a screen thirty feet high. “A Passage to India” (based on the E.M. Forster novel) was Lean’s last film and it certainly feels as if it comes from a very rich story with a lot of subtext. Set in colonial India, the film revolves around the mother and bride-to-be of a Colonial Magistrate who are bored with the stuffiness of the old order and wish to venture out to the “real India.” They soon form a social club with a local mystic (Alec Guinness in brown-face, ughh), a local doctor and a magistrate. The wife-to-be (Judy Davis) gets more than she bargained for as she has an attack of sorts for which the prominent local doctor is accused of rape. The ensuing trial brings to the forefront the racial undercurrent of the times and a clear and unforgiving divide forms between bigotry and compassion. It’s a poignant film with complex moral themes with well-earned moments of sadness and hope.

“Brideshead Revisited” (2008)
One of those movies that seemed to fly under the radar when it was released, the film boasts Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw in this novel adaptation about guilt, forbidden love, more forbidden love, and love being prevented from blooming because of more guilt. Set in Great Britain in the 1940s, the story’s first act involves a wealthy youth named Sebastian (Whishaw) who invites his commoner friend from the University, Charles (Goode) on holiday to his estate. Sebastian is very into Charles in a more-than-just-friends way and Charles is what might be described as bi-curious enough to give Sebastian some hope. (The film takes a sort of “hey it was the ‘70s” [or its British equivalent] attitude towards its characters’ sexuality.) This all changes when Sebastian’s sister shows up and Charles becomes into her, although that’s a forbidden love for different reasons. They also have a horribly overbearing mother who the kids hate and Charles also hates (is it more or catastrophically awful mothers the norm in Dickensenian literature?) and blames for the failure of his friendship with Sebastian and romance with his sister. It’s a movie that has its moments but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as highly as the other three above-mentioned films. Ed. note: My parents love the old miniseries with Jeremy Irons as Charles – but this is a much smaller time investment.

For my fifth pick, I’ll have to cheat a little bit and draw from the Modern Library-produced reader’s list, or the right column here. “All the King’s Men” and “The Great Gatsby” were so by-the-numbers films that they felt like little more than filmic cliff notes. I really can’t remember “The Magnificent Ambersons” well enough to opine (Ed. I sure liked the book, though) and I feel like “Apocalypse Now” is too loosely based (Ed. note: on HEART OF DARKNESS, of course) to satisfy book readers. As a result, I’m going to go with the reader’s version and select:

“Shane” (1953)
There was practically a different Western playing every week if you went to a movie theater in the 1950s, so what makes “Shane,” based on the 1949 novel by Jack Schaefer, a film that’s even remembered 60 years later? (Ed. note: Having not seen the movie I believe it's the part where, spoiler, people shout "Come back, Shane!") I think it’s entirely because the story is told by Joey Starrett (played by 11-year-old Brandon de Wilde). If the genre isn’t directly aimed at kids, one might say that the Western appeals to the childlike part of adult for whom an untamed world without rules is an ideal fantasy in our rigid bureaucracy. The character of Joey is key because, like us, he doesn’t exactly understand why the Western is the way it is. He grows attached to the charismatic gunslinger title character and worries early on about his departure. He doesn’t understand the irony of the Old West (or at least the movie version): After the heroic gunslinger has done his job to tame the West by chasing away the bad guys, he’s created a civilization that has no place for a man with such a violent and unchaste profession.

Well, that was easy. Thanks, Orrin! If you want to blog for me, please reach out at lnvsml at gmail.com.

16 August 2011

Spotted on the subway

A teenage girl with Rihanna-red hair and a Kindle cover to match, immersed in Alyson Noel's EVERLASTING, which I learn is a YA series about an immortal who falls in love with a mortal in her various incarnations. Hmmm, that definitely sounded less creepy when I read about it.

15 August 2011

Because if you read it on the Internet it's got to be true!

Speaking of Tom Perrotta, we need to talk about this section of his Wikipedia page.

Just made my first Kindle preorder

of Roger Ebert's memoir LIFE ITSELF, out September 13. Important question: Will I be able to start reading it at midnight the day of the book's release? Oh, goody!

14 August 2011

This just about killed me.

"I'm sorry, Buddy. I don't think this is a good idea."
"Why not? Don't you like me?"
"I got involved with a friend once before. It was a disaster."
"We're different," I said.
She chose that moment to open the refrigerator door and take out a bottle of Pepsi.
"Please," she said. The bottle made a kissing noise as she twisted the cap. "Let's just forget this happened."
--Tom Perrotta, "Just The Way We Were" (from BAD HAIRCUT: STORIES OF THE SEVENTIES)

13 August 2011

Bonnie made a joke now as she served him his martini.

When I was a freshman in college I was assigned THE CRYING OF LOT 49 in my fiction-writing class. The instructor was terrific but he didn't understand why we didn't warm more to Pynchon's most accessible work.

"The last time I taught this, my students were drawing the [not really a spoiler] post horn on everything," he said, with a head-tilt of disappointment. 

For about two-thirds of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS I did not see what the fuss was about, but when the final character was added to the mix -- one who in a sense had been there all along, but not participating -- it finally clicked for me, and it was so good. And the next day I found myself in a meeting doodling "Goodbye, Blue Monday" at the top of my to-do list. Like a symphonic motif, it recurs until you realize its function all along.

The skeleton of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS is the gradual unraveling of car dealer Dwayne Hoover under the influence of little known pulp novelist Kilgore Trout. Trout began his career writing science-fiction filler for pornographic magazines; since it was assumed no one was reading his work, his style evolved along its own weird but highly allegorical path. Trout comes to Midland City, where Dwayne Hoover lives, at the behest of a local millionaire who wants him to speak at their arts festival -- even though he's fairly sure they're making fun of him.

Vonnegut's satiric target in this one is much wider than SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, almost too diffuse -- probably the reason I had trouble gripping onto this one. I'm not saying any of them were unjustified, but it tends to dilute the power. Which is interesting in light of the author's recent book ban in Republic, Missouri, in which school board member Wesley Scroggins criticizes SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE for basically that, containing a wide range of offensive material (and profanity!) while not even mentioning what the book is about which is, at its heart, wartime atrocities specifically those committed by the Allies. I learned more about the bombing of Dresden from Vonnegut than from either AP US or European History. Might as well shear those off, too.

The turn in BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS doesn't promise (threaten?) the same realization, but it's almost as powerful.

The Internets inform me that this book has been made into a movie with the oddest-looking cast ever. (Barbara Hershey and Omar Epps? Forsooth!) There is also a bar in Bushwick called Goodbye Blue Monday and I will probably have to go there.

Illustration: Well Said

12 August 2011

Reading on the Road: RIP Midwest Airlines Edition

The airline I used to fly on 80 percent of my trips home was purchased and is being slowly unbranded, replaced by... this.
  • Tom Perrotta, THE LEFTOVERS (review)
  • Amor Towles, RULES OF CIVILITY
  • Douglas Preston, THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE

I hope someone told that wolf the birchbark doesn't hide anything.

    11 August 2011

    "Because I am a sucker and the mother of an only child, I get my kid small gifts for her half-birthday. For the momentous EIGHT AND A HALF it ended up being the seventh (and last, or so I hear) Harry Potter book. Nora genuinely enjoys reading these, but I think there is a certain degree of fangirl shit going on with regard to the Harry Potter franchise, both with her and among her peers—it is not enough to get Harry Potter books from the library, you need to own them; the books’ lengths and girths are compared, like some literary locker-room wangfest; and you are expected to have a favorite book and vigorously defend that choice. I roll my eyes a bit at the whole thing but cannot deny that listening to a bunch of pre-teens arguing about books is adorable."
    --Mimi Smartypants

    It's that time of year again!

    Event listings for the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival are starting to go up (if not the festival day events themselves). And to quote a contemporary grammatically incorrect pop hit, we, we, we so excited.

    Top 5 authors I have never heard speak who are scheduled to attend:
    Joyce Carol Oates
    Norton Juster 
    Esmeralda Santiago
    Tom Perrotta
    Kate Christensen

    Okay, your turn!

    10 August 2011

    5 Chuck Klosterman-related Portmanteaux That May Be Practiced At His Bookstore Panel Tonight

    • Klosterbomb: A surprisingly scathing review by Chuck Klosterman 
    • Kloster-feeding: the act of bringing Chuck Klosterman dinner
    • Klosterstock: Investing tips from Chuck Klosterman
    • Kloster headaches: Searing pain caused by straining to either hear or see Chuck Klosterman at a very crowded reading
    • Klosterfuck: Use your imagination (or not)

    Philip Levine, "On 52nd Street"

    Down sat Bud, raised his hands, 
    the Deuces silenced, the lights
    lowered, and breath gathered
    for the coming storm. Then nothing,
    not a single note. Outside starlight
    from heaven fell unseen, a quarter-
    moon, promised, was no show,
    ditto the rain. Late August of '50,
    NYC, the long summer of abundance
    and our new war. In the mirror behind
    the bar, the spirits—imitating you—
    stared at themselves. At the bar
    the tenor player up from Philly, shut
    his eyes and whispered to no one,
    "Same thing last night." Everyone
    been coming all week long
    to hear this. The big brown bass
    sighed and slumped against
    the piano, the cymbals held
    their dry cheeks and stopped
    chicking and chucking. You went
    back to drinking and ignored
    the unignorable. When the door
    swung open it was Pettiford
    in work clothes, midnight suit,
    starched shirt, narrow black tie,
    spit shined shoes, as ready
    as he'd ever be. Eyebrows
    raised, the Irish bartender
    shook his head, so Pettiford eased 
    himself down at an empty table,
    closed up his Herald Tribune,
    and shook his head. Did the TV
    come on, did the jukebox bring us
    Dinah Washington, did the stars
    keep their appointments, did the moon
    show, quartered or full, sprinkling
    its soft light down? The night's
    still there, just where it was, just
    where it'll always be without
    its music. You're still there too
    holding your breath. Bud walked out. 
    Levine was named U.S. Poet Laureate yesterday, after W.S. Merwin. Born in Michigan, he worked night shifts at Chevrolet before being accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop. About his creative life pre-academia, he wrote:
    "I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own. I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life—or at least the part my work played in it—I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life." (source: Poets.org)

    09 August 2011

    DailyLit Secretly Taken Over By Bros?

    I still love you guys but you need to stop using the word "chillax," it's giving me hives.

    Strand news, burying the lede edition

    In a message about a new location for all its events, venerable New York City bookstore The Strand mentions that, oh by the way, reading attendees will be asked to either buy the book or a $10 gift card at reading starting September 1st. 

    I haven't been to a reading at the Strand in a good long while (not by choice, the readings that catch my eye just never seem to work in my schedule). I give them credit not only for the gift-card option, but that your purchase admits 2 people, so if I were going with a friend and I didn't want to buy the book but s/he did, then I could still get in. Still, not a huge fan of this decision.

    On the other hand, I'm always in the Strand picking up things and have spent many a happy afternoon browsing the dollar carts, and I would hate to lose such an institution. I could always stockpile my gift cards for Christmas shopping. But if other bookstores in the neighborhood follow suit, I may later be attempting to pay my rent in bookstore credit and I think that will not go well.

    08 August 2011

    Covers and the what-if

    For his fourth novel MACHINE MAN (out tomorrow!) Max Barry had readers on various platforms vote on which cover they thought was best. He designed #4, #3 and #6 were done in-house at his publisher Vintage, and the rest were designed by Matt Roeser, whose blog New Cover offers alternative covers for the books he's read. (Seriously look at what he did to those sorry George R.R. Martin books! And THE ODYSSEY! And JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH!)

    Read his blog post on the results here. I'm kind of surprised at what won, and it seemed like so was he.
    "The Ayelet Triathlon involves 1. reading a novel 2. eating donuts & 3. Watching an episode of 'Weeds.' Fast!"
    --Ayelet Waldman reacting to a tragic death at this weekend's NYC Triathlon. Now this, this needs to happen.

    07 August 2011

    Filmbook-to-be: Dostoevsky's "The Double"

    This is absolutely the first time ol' Fyodor has ever gotten an exclusive. I bet on his deathbed it was all "Well, we'll make room in the obits tomorrow."

    06 August 2011

    "As edited to under two hours by Mr. Gibney and Ms. Ellwood, the Kesey footage has several memorable scenes, including one in which the novelist Larry McMurtry, whose middle-class house in Houston has just been invaded by Kesey’s band, finds it necessary to call the police and explain that a Prankster, apparently suffering from a drug-induced breakdown, has gone missing and that in keeping with her nickname, Stark Naked, she’s not wearing any clothes."
     This new Alex Gibney documentary about the Merry Pranksters, as covered in Tom Wolfe's THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST, activates all my nerd. The footage! Read the New York Times review here

    05 August 2011

    Filmbook: Where will you be for THE HELPocalpyse?

    Reports are leaking of advance screenings of "The Help," the Emma Stone-/ Viola Davis-starring adaptation of the book everybody's book club read already. I wasn't invited to one of these, because life is pain, Highness, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something -- but I will probably go under my own steam. I like Emma Stone a lot, and I'm curious as I am with most adaptations.

    If possible I will take my mom, who also didn't like the book (like me) and whose taste in movies apart from the garden-variety romantic comedy is somewhat unpredictable. (Loved "Knocked Up" but hated "Bridesmaids" -- for example.) She is neither excited for this, nor for the following week's marquee adaptation release "One Day" based on the David Nicholls book I also didn't like. (Now is the summer of our discontent!) I think at this point she's just waiting for "Grey's Anatomy" to come back. But in case you hear a loud cackling sound next week and plus a few hours, that's what's going on.

    All the sneak preview reviews I've read have been glowingly positive, but that likely says less about the movie itself than who the studio is inviting, i.e. not spiteful little stubs like the management of this here blog. But is there truly anything Viola Davis can't ennoble? Well, almost.

    It's my living cube. I'm living in it.

    4: Number of books I found in my office drawer this week as I was packing to move (2nd move since I started working here) (corporate life is so glamorous)

    04 August 2011

    I want to go to there

    Upper East Side, New York, NY, July 2011

    Harper Perennial hearts Kindle

    The imprint known for its paperback originals (including the adorable Olive Editions) and social-media friendliness put 20 of its books on sale for $0.99 during August. Titles include Neal Pollack's STRETCH and Rachel Shukert's EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT. Because I have so much discipline, I have only purchased one because the author's fiancée wrote about it on Tumblr. See, the social internet book-selling machine works! (But if I finish that one I might buy another.) (Gosh I have no idea where all these books come from.)

    03 August 2011

    I found this delightful: How To Carry An Embarrassing Book In Public, by a guy reading through the Time 100 Best Novels Since 1923 list. (Though he did omit the ol' tote bag trick!) It will pay off if I get this review copy in the mail this week.
    This morning I saw a guy reading while walking his dog. Looked dangerous.

    02 August 2011

    Hemingway would probably have gone to the theatre more if there were bullfighters.

    Elevator Repair Service, the New York theatre company who adapted the entire first section of THE SOUND AND THE FURY onstage, will be back for what is billed as its final installment in the great American literature series with their adaptation of THE SUN ALSO RISES this fall. I know I've read THE SUN ALSO RISES but it took me a while to think about whether I liked it or not; I think I liked the book itself, not so much the common interpretation of what it's about as a stray scornful comment here would indicate. (Because why do I even have a blog, etc.) I guess I'm due for a re-read earlier than expected.

    There Are Things Eva Gabrielsson Wants You To Know About Stieg Larsson

    1. Stieg Larsson was pretty much the perfect guy. Even his temper was just because he got so riled up about injustice! And he loved women, but not in the Mikael Blomkvist way. But he did drink all that coffee in the Mikael Blomkvist way. Now Gabrielsson, his long-time partner (in a romantic cohabitating we-were-always-about-to-get-married sense), can't bring herself to drink coffee any more because he isn't with her.
    2. He used a lot of stuff from his life in his books! Like the small town he grew up in, the places he vacationed, even real names of people he admired and wanted to thank. (Are you allowed to use someone's name in a work of fiction without asking them first? I suppose not, but it would probably be most polite to check.)
    3. He had all kinds of wonderful plans for their life together before he was felled by a very sudden heart attack, but that beats all those years when he and Gabrielsson were afraid someone was going to assassinate him for reporting on Swedish right-wing and white supremacist movements. Also, he was totally eating better in the months before his fatal heart attack. [I mean, why even point this out. It's kind of late to judge a dead man on his diet, and it seems as though cardiac problems at an early age ran in his family.]
    4. Larsson never explicitly set out to write a thriller series, which makes it all the more confusing that he is also described as mapping out a 10-volume saga in literally the same paragraph. How does one go from apparently writing unrelated chunks of text to Thriller Author Beloved Of Millions? It's still a mystery!
    5. The absence of legislation in Sweden covering long-term cohabitating couples who never marry is a disgrace. (Okay, that's not really about Larsson, but that is the main point of this book. Regardless of whether you think Gabrielsson is only after the intellectual property rights of her former partner, as she says, or if she is more financially motivated, what happened to her seems to be legal and also sucked.

    I don't want to say this book is unnecessary, out of respect for the widow, who has been through enough. But I would read this book only if you are a completist or enjoy being asked by strangers about what you're reading. (Actually, that aspect of it was pretty fun. No one cares if you're reading 2666 on the subway.) The only detail revealed about Book 4 is the title, THE VENGEANCE OF GOD, and that apparently Lisbeth Salander gets hers back, which we already knew because she is badass like that.

    01 August 2011

    July Unbookening

    Nick Bilton writes in the New York Times about jettisoning 80 percent of his books before a cross-country move. He cops to buying about 50 books a year (I'm at, oh, maybe 20 now? just guessing) but says e-readers have been his primary delivery device for several years, which made the decision easier. But still!!!

    Bought 5 books (1 on Kindle)
    Checked out 9 from the library
    Received 5 to review
    Won 1 in a giveaway (I know!!)
    20 in

    Donated 9
    Returned 6 to library
    Gave away 2
    17 out

    Overall for the year I have a negative balance (because why even have a blog if you can't look up meaningless self-statistics like that?) Yet my shelf space says otherwise. And I got a lot of reading done this month. If I can't make it happen under those circumstances... Or I could stop using the library, but that will never happen.