31 December 2011

Best Books of 2011

Best Fiction
Anne Enright, THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ
Chad Harbach, THE ART OF FIELDING
Roberto Bolaño, 2666 [not 2011]
David Foster Wallace, THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM [not 2011]
Jennifer Egan, A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD [not 2011]
Edie Meidav, LOLA, CALIFORNIA
Tom Perrotta, THE LEFTOVERS
Joseph Heller, CATCH-22 [not 2011]
Michael Ondaatje, THE ENGLISH PATIENT [not 2011]
Arthur Phillips, THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR

Best Fiction With An Asterisk 
Jeffrey Eugenides, THE MARRIAGE PLOT 

Best Nonfiction
Tom Scocca, BEIJING WELCOMES YOU
Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly, ALL THINGS SHINING
Susan Orlean, RIN TIN TIN

Best Unfinished Work
David Foster Wallace, THE PALE KING

Best Memoir, Just One This Year
Vera Brittain, TESTAMENT OF YOUTH

Page-Turners of Awesome: The Stieg Larsson "Failed To Finish GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST" Memorial Category
Glen David Gold, CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL
Douglas Kennedy, THE MOMENT

Modern Library of Yes, We're Still Doing This Thing
JP Donleavy, THE GINGER MAN
Joseph Heller, CATCH-22
Joseph Conrad, LORD JIM
V.S. Naipaul, A BEND IN THE RIVER

Best Books With Not-The-Best Endings
Manuel Munoz, WHAT YOU SEE IN THE DARK
Teddy Wayne, KAPITOIL
John O'Hara, A RAGE TO LIVE

Saddest Ending
Stephen Kelman, PIGEON ENGLISH

Best Book Endings
James Hynes, NEXT 
Roberto Bolaño, 2666 
Tom Scocca, BEIJING WELCOMES YOU

Creepiest Premise
Drew Magary, THE POSTMORTAL

Best Villains, Maniacal Laugh, Maniacal Laugh!!! 
Italian law enforcement and magistrates in Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE (even the potential killers weren't as menacing!)

Most Surprising
Hannah Pittard, THE FATES WILL FIND THEIR WAY
Jim Knipfel, THE BLOW-OFF
Bella Pollen, THE SUMMER OF THE BEAR
Michael Ondaatje, THE ENGLISH PATIENT 

30 December 2011

A reading regret we regret was left out of the original regrets

We're clearing out ALL the regret before 2012 begins.

Blockbuster book I really wanted to get to, but just couldn't make the time
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84. I willed myself to finish 2666 first (and did!) My BHD priorities, let me show you them.

29 December 2011

While you were out

The city of Milwaukee near where I grew up recently got a nightclub called The Library. I'll just point you to its website because it is the most epic ridiculous set of illustrations, yet giving no clue as to why one would want to make a nightclub themed after a silent place known to be the hangout of nerds. Sure, I've been to library-themed bars before, but at least it was conceivable there that the place could be empty and reading-amenable at some hour...

I didn't actually go when I was home (lack of time, mostly!) but I hear it has bottle service and waitresses dressed like schoolgirls. Oh, lord. My reviewer on the scene said it was decent, but here is another disgruntled patron's opinion.

Reading Regrets of 2011

Months in which I read the fewest books
September, followed by February

Books I didn't have time to finish before I had to return them to the library
Christopher Bollen, LIGHTNING PEOPLE
Andrew Ross Sorkin, TOO BIG TO FAIL
Randy Shilts, AND THE BAND PLAYED ON
Adam Ross, MR. PEANUT
Hunter S. Thompson, THE RUM DIARY 
Nicholson Baker, THE ANTHOLOGIST

A book I paid too many library fines on relative to how much I enjoyed it
Gary Shteyngart, SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY

Authors I wanted to get more into, but didn't have time
Kate Christensen
John O'Hara
Vera Brittain
James Hynes
Jim Knipfel

Most overused pronoun in titles this year
"My" 

A book I liked only slightly less than most people I know, but which gave me a complex about it
Karen Russell, SWAMPLANDIA!

A book by an established author that lacks what makes the others great
Jennifer Weiner, THEN CAME YOU

A tell-all that doesn't tell much
Eva Gabrielsson, THERE ARE THINGS I WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT STIEG LARSSON AND ME

A hipster treasure I expected to like but did not
Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, THE CHAIRS ARE WHERE THE PEOPLE GO

A funny memoir that didn't get enough credit
Hilary Winston, MY BOYFRIEND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT ME (she writes for that show you like, what's it called, "Community." And I just found out who the titular boyfriend is! Thank you Internet!)

The book that makes other books about talking animals look bad
Benjamin Hale, THE EVOLUTION OF BRUNO LITTLEMORE

Books I finished in one sitting and then was sad that there wasn't more
Patton Oswalt, ZOMBIE SPACESHIP WASTELAND
Stephen Kelman, PIGEON ENGLISH
Amy Waldman, THE SUBMISSION

28 December 2011

Digital divide getting divide-ier (also water wet, sky blue...)

"In [publishers'] eyes, borrowing an e-book from a library has been too easy."
Don't you just love it when people who have no idea what they're talking about set e-book lending policies? I refer you to this post from 2009. This process is still the same (as I discovered, infuriatingly, a few weeks ago trying to borrow an audiobook to listen to at work). This is why I never borrow e-books from the library, because it's too frustrating even for me. And I work in the Internet. (You know, down in the mines. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho...) Better just to say as Maja Thomas of Hachette eventually gets around to, that profits are at stake.

27 December 2011

Most commented-on posts of 2011: Argue about them again, for the first time

January: Scoff, on the necessary punishment of D.H. Lawrence who I am done with on the Modern Library list, and possibly forever?
February: You heard it here first, about my most regrettable read of 2011. Pray tell what book was that? I'll name it in the next few days!
March: Tie, Bookfilm: Charles Portis, TRUE GRIT, in which I read the Western that inspired the Coen Brothers' latest movie, and Unbookening... goes digital? in which I pondered whether making space on your Kindle's hard drive is the same as making space on your shelf. Still haven't decided for sure. 
April: Wallaceblogging: Jonathan Franzen, "Farther Away" which New Yorker essay will be included in Franzen's forthcoming book of essays in 2012, also called FARTHER AWAY.
May: By your tote bag shall we know ye, whose examination of tote culture somewhat prefigured the New York Times Style Section examination of same in December.
June: Guardian's 100 best nonfiction books: What do you have?
July: Tie, Modern Library Annual Suggestion Box (again, thank you!) and Free Advice Friday: How not to name your daughter. If more advice columnists would address book-related dilemmas, maybe Free Advice Friday could become a thing! Just putting it out there.
August: Music video by The Decemberists invokes INFINITE JEST's Eschaton Still exciting.
September-October: Joan Didion is tiny and cute Hilariously, a tipster alerted me to the fact that this post was quoted in New York magazine. Ma, I'm famous! For being Joan Didion's Chris Crocker. But in fact, that was pretty amazing.
November-December: Nerds (Who Run The World) Because in the future, that post title won't make any sense.

26 December 2011

Filmbook: "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2011, dir. David Fincher)

What you really need to know about David Fincher's adaptation of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" is that it effectively brings the scares. That's not the last word on the movie, nor is it necessarily the paramount concern, but it was one of mine. Merry Christmas to me (and in fact, I did see this movie on Christmas Day, with family, and we wouldn't have it any other way. "Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows" will just have to wait.)

In case you still haven't gotten around to either the Stieg Larsson book or its vast fields of spoilers, a quick summary: Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played here by Daniel Craig) takes a private job allegedly working on a family biography for industrial baron Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) but actually investigating the disappearance of his niece (played in flashback by Moa Garpendal, listed about 27th on IMDb for this movie), which Vanger believes to have been a murder; in his research Blomkvist enlists the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara, double football legacy and girl who dumps Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of "The Social Network"), a professional hacker and ward of the state.

Discerning whether this version could effectively bring the scares was important to me because I've already experienced "Dragon Tattoo"'s chain of events twice, once on the page and once onscreen. I saw the Swedish "Dragon Tattoo" two years ago, but luckily had one of my sisters (who had seen it more recently) to remind me of the stylistic differences between the Swedish version, which in retrospect looks like an episode of "SVU," and Fincher with full artistic guns blazing. He shoots the flashbacks to 1960s Sweden in a yellowy wash reminiscent of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", but underlined with notes of malice to keep viewers from wanting to linger in those seemingly idyllic pictures. The present scenes are often washed in blue, echoing the distance Blomkvist is putting between himself, his professional failures, his lover and his Stockholm life as he delves back into the past. There is a retread of the famous "Zodiac" into-the-basement sequence, chased by an unforgettable sound cue that makes a creepy moment even more chilling; the rest of the Trent Reznor/ Atticus Ross soundtrack is effective without being intrusive.

That scene-setting is important, but sometimes it overwhelms the performances -- particularly Daniel Craig as Blomkvist, already muted in efforts (I assume) to make his character more sympathetic. We've seen Craig as "blunt instrument" James Bond, but here he's turned down so far that the occasional outburst looks out of place on him. I would never have thought that he would bring less sex appeal to his role than his Swedish counterpart, being both younger and better-looking, but there you go. Plummer is underused (I read that in deference to his age, he shot on set for just 2 weeks), although part of that is related to the source material and how it employs Henrik Vanger as another hammer in the plot's mechanism. Mara is great -- her Salander, more avoidant than Noomi Rapace's aggressive characterization, shifts uneasily between modes of behavior in just the right ways -- but she's being given too much credit for bringing a great character to life. (Also, true or false: Is it easier for a mostly-unknown actress to lose herself in a role?) In a more conventional thriller tale this wouldn't be a problem, but we linger on characterization long enough -- the super first meeting between Blomkvist and Salander coming to mind -- for it to pull away a bit.

There's another troublesome sequence in "Dragon Tattoo" I can't quite let go of, which I don't want to spoil but it involves a series of very violent images, rapidly processed, and one that the camera lingers on that almost belies the point the movie's trying to make. For that, but for a few other reasons, I'd like to catch it again in a few weeks to either confirm or overturn my initial impressions -- and decide whether the Steven Zaillian script collapses the 800-plus pages of the source as efficiently as possible (as it originally seemed). I can only guess that the reason this movie didn't do better over the holiday weekend is because of its graphic violence and sex, both of which wouldn't come as a shock to the many moviegoers who read DRAGON TATTOO first. How anyone can prefer the torture of "Chipwrecked" is beyond my understanding.

25 December 2011

Here are some books I gave (sorry, Santa)


For the lucky study-abroad-bound. I know, it's a regressive piece of techology, but WiFi isn't quite as widespread as we'd all like to think.


And for one of my own 2012 travel buddies.

I like everything about this paperback except that cover line. Hork. So undeniably cheesy.


Because some people are actually into books that sound like Dr. Seuss books but aren't!


Crossover recommendation: If you're in New York City or planning to go soon, check out the de Kooning retrospective at the MoMA.


From the coauthors of 2 Birds 1 Blog... then I turned around and bought it on Kindle for myself. I mean, I've been fairly good this year.

24 December 2011


Happy holidays from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (via Mediabistro)

23 December 2011

I'm really happy for you and I'm gonna let you finish, Jeffrey Eugenides getting beat up and Salman Rushdie breaking up with some woman on Facebook, but Jennet Conant had the most bonkers author story of 2011. Via Johanna Cox on Twitter.

Filmbook: "The Descendants" (2011)


Instead of drawing together in crisis, the King family seems to be drifting apart: Father Matt (George Clooney) has just found out that his wife Elizabeth, who has been in a coma since a sailboat accident a few weeks earlier, is not improving and her doctor is bound to the Do Not Resuscitate order she signed before she died. Matt must now break the news to family and friends, as well as to his daughters, troublemaker Alex (Shailene Woodley) and the just-tipping-toward-rebellion Scottie (Amara Miller).


Having let his wife take the lead with their daughters throughout their marriage, Matt finds himself performing the motions of parenting without any idea of what he's being called to do. At the same time, he's managing the sale of his extended family's ancestral parcel of land, a small decision that comes to overlap with his family crisis in an unexpected way.

This movie kind of snuck up on me with its greatness. I was expecting it to be good, but I wasn't expecting to be still thinking about it weeks after I saw it. Clooney, Woodley, Miller and Nick Krause as Alex's dopey friend Sid (Krause must have been created in a lab exactly to play Sid, he's just exactly right) are unquestionably the ensemble cast of the year. I think the kids were actually toned down somewhat from the novel to be less obnoxious, but it works here. (And no motherfucking Mr. Mom jokes. It has to be said! Thanks for not going there!)

I wouldn't agree with people who are saying this is Payne's most mature film -- but it holds a few punches in some key moments, although it delivers on others. (The confrontation on the bungalow porch is just so brutally well done, but well counterbalanced by the scene with Judy Greer's character in the hospital.) It's his most family-centric movie, which is not to say it's family-friendly, but puts the whole clan under the same microscope where he stuck Tracy Flick and Miles Raymond. Clooney anchors it extremely well, though; this is his best performance in years, and it's almost a shame he'll probably be crowded out at Oscar time.

I had never heard of Kaui Hart Hemmings' debut novel THE DESCENDANTS before Alexander Payne (of "Election" and "Sideways" fame) was trotting out his adaptation of it, and the book proved somewhat hard to find in stores, so much so that I gave up and bought the movie tie-in. The adaptation is funnier and less introspective, but the novel isn't at all ponderous -- just a little more reflective in ways that might have been conveyed over more voiceover than Payne employed. If anything, the book digs a little deeper into Matt and his wife's marriage, and to Matt's consciousness as a several-generation Hawaiian who as gone, in his words, "haole as fuck," but I appreciated that Payne's film didn't lean too far into flashback.

Filmbook Verdict: Read the book and see the movie.

22 December 2011

"People think that when you’re the star of a film, your time must be chock-full with endless minutia—appearances, conversations, getting 'into character,' and so on. But when you’re the star, you end up just sitting around a lot. For a single shot to take place, for instance, a whole series of organized events have to be set in motion: The 3D crew has to gauge the shot, the cinematographer has to line up the camera, the lighting crew has to arrange its lights and shades, the set has to be rearranged or otherwise moved into place, the wardrobe and hair departments have to prepare the actors—and through all of this, the actor just sits and waits. In fact, actors will often sit and wait so for so long that "body doubles" will sometimes be hired just to sit and wait in the appropriate place for the actors. So when you see James’s character with his arm trapped under a rock in 127 Hours, what you don’t see is that there was an assigned reading under the rock with it. When he’s playfully wrestling with a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, just off to the right of the shot was a stack of books.

"The truth is, if you’re an A-list Hollywood star like James Franco, and are willing to put the time into earning a Ph.D, you may actually have more time to read than many of your colleagues. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about the grocery shopping, laundry, and other sundry tasks that every other poor graduate student in the country has to worry about. After visiting Detroit, the thing I found myself wondering was not 'How does James do it?' but rather 'Why aren’t more Hollywood actors earning Ph.Ds?'"

--Yale professor R. John Williams on James Franco, actor and scholar.

Reading on the Road: Wish LaGuardia would do this edition


The Fort Collins airport has a leave-one-take-one book shelf. How long have I been saying airports should do this?!? So if you're anywhere near there for the holidays, check it out.
 
Source: S.U.A.R.

21 December 2011

I enjoyed the spreadsheet repurposing in this piece by the Hairpin, What Old Book Do I Read If...? There's also an earlier installment, but sans spreadsheet.

Some jerk decided to go through airport security with weapons hidden in a book

If the TSA keeps me from bringing books on a plane because of this jerkstore I will personally start a protest. Ugh!

20 December 2011

Did you miss any of my excellent gift suggestions?

Hurry up and finish your shopping so we can work on that mulled wine recipe together. (Not that I'm judging, I only bought my office Secret Santa present yesterday for presentation... today.)

Filmbook Extra: "Young Adult" (2011)

Jason Reitman's new movie isn't actually based on a book, but I had to throw up a mention of it because it's about a YA author. In fact, at one point main character Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) harshly corrects someone who says she writes "children's books," just as she corrects everyone who (innocently enough) refers to her as a "writer."

Perhaps there is a bit of Mavis Gary in all of us. We know from the movie (mild spoiler, I guess?) that Mavis has been ghostwriting a high school-based series called "Waverly Prep" that is about to end its run. The poster (at left) quotes visually from the chapter books of my youth, at least until they threw it out and started using another one that wasn't nearly as unique, and that makes more sense when you know how much of an influence her book-in-progress has on the structure of the movie.




Also, at one point she visits a local Borders (RIP) and has a conversation with an employee that is painful and that paints her in a fairly negative light -- but no more so than the rest of the movie.

For those of you who have seen "Young Adult," I'm wondering if you thought her career choice was at all realistic based on presented evidence. I felt so while leaving the theatre, but now I'm teetering. This is not a standard most mainstream movies hold their characters up to, but given that Mavis is presented as being kind of in a slump (precipitating the trip back to her hometown that "Young Adult" covers) we don't see a lot of her doing the kind of work that might precede getting such a prime job. At the same time, when people expressed amazement about her job, I didn't feel like chiming in and saying "Yeah, how does that work exactly?"

I liked but didn't love Jason Reitman's last movie, "Up In The Air"; still, this exceeded expectations by a fair amount for me. Theron's portrayal of Mavis is harsh, but fair, and Patton Oswalt as perhaps the only sympathetic character (apart from the baby? Maybe?) As to the script, if I hadn't known going in that Diablo Cody wrote it, I likely wouldn't have been able to guess; the dialogue is a lot more natural, without the cutesy turns we've all heard quoted a million times.

19 December 2011

Don't worry, we'll be doing more grammar in 2012 (but the same amount of Justin Bieber)

One of the students I volunteer teach tried to tell me tonight that "Justin Bieber" was a verb. Sorry, dear, you can only bring the Bieber into 85 percent of our in-class writing assignments, and this is not one of them.

That said, if "to Bieber" were a verb we all recognized... what would it mean?

To be discovered on YouTube? To be discovered by Usher?
To rise out of Canadian obscurity? (I feel like Dan Aykroyd or Joni Mitchell might have to say something about that. But neither "to Aykroyd" nor "to Joni" would mean that, for obvious reasons.)
To be accused of fathering a child before you turn 18?
To cause a preteen wave of marriage proposals from girls who are not actually allowed to date yet?
To popularize a very unflattering haircut?
To create a cult of personality around yourself inexplicable to most grownups?

I would have worked on that with the student, but we were in the middle of Mad Libs.

Treat Yourself 2011: What More Can I Give?

So maybe you don't need more reading material, much less reading material packaged up in pretty boxes. Maybe your intended recipient has enough knicknacks and blank books. Why not make a donation in her or his name to some kind of reading-related charity to show that your love of books is more than just between the two of you? There are thousands of options, but here are just five:

FirstBook: I'm a huge booster of FirstBook (not that I can find the last time I wrote about them, so maybe it's time to make another donation myself?) but I think the pitch is pretty irresistible. Chances are if you're reading this you grew up in a house of books, and it's hard to imagine that there are kids out there who don't have any books to call their own. First Book takes your donations and buys books wholesale so kids can have their own to read a billion times over. If I can't convince you, perhaps Nick Kristof will. Charity Navigator, a nonprofit grading other nonprofits on their financial health and transparency, gave this organization three stars.

Donors Choose: If you know any k-12 school teachers, you've probably been exposed to this online charity where teachers put up their "projects" and what they plan to buy with donations -- from projectors to lab equipment to craft supplies. Classroom sets of books are a popular choice -- you can even find out if they're still teaching your old favorites by running a search (although hey, look, THE HUNGER GAMES is trending!) Charity Navigator gave this organization four stars.

Reading Partners: Especially for those of us in New York, Washington D.C. and California, but expanding to Baltimore and other cities next year, this group recruits adult tutors for kindergarten through fifth grade students who have fallen behind in reading to offer them some extra help behind the scenes. It's a great program to support financially if you aren't able to volunteer during the school day when tutoring happens (no judgment here). Charity Navigator gave this organization four stars.

Books for Soldiers: While you're fulfilling the wish lists of family and friends, sign up for this site and send an active-duty member of the military a book that he or she wants. (Just because we're at the end of combat operations in Iraq... you know what I'm saying.) Charity Navigator didn't rate Books for Soldiers; I'm including it here because it does have nonprofit status, although it is church-affiliated if that information is important to you.

Your local library. I assume if the New York Public Library is asking for donations all the time, if even a city with a lot of rich people isn't turning out its pockets fast enough for the public library, then they probably could all use the help. And again, as with FirstBook: Dig around for your formative experiences in public libraries. Chances are you have a few. Everybody deserves that. (And that's how she demonstrated why she doesn't write fundraising campaigns for a living.)

18 December 2011

Treat Yourself 2011: Scribble, scribble, scribble

The short answer for where I write my book-related thoughts is "Everywhere." I used to keep a proper reading journal with a page for each book, and then I fell behind on it for some reason, and then I started blogging more... and I never picked the habit back up.

If you want to get into the habit of writing things down again, either about books or on a broader range of topics, here are some writing materials I like:

Any paper notebook can be a reading journal and there are a lot out there, but I liked the craftsmanship of and recommendations in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Journal ($12.95, Sasquatch) Pearl is a librarian and overall reading booster, and I believe wrote a book called BOOK LUST to those ends... this is a handsome little piece though. She also sells a journal for kids called Book Crush in case you, I don't know, can't find a PG way of explaining what lust is to your kids, or something. 

As far as Moleskines go, I am the stereotype. I love them and tell myself that if I use them, it's okay to pay slightly too much for notebooks that are good but don't actually make me write any better. (But I'm using a spiral notebook right now, for throwback value.) My substitute obsession are the Moleskine knockoffs at Staples, in black leather, brown leather or even a sort of nifty plaid. They're listed on the website at $12.99 but usually I see them on sale for $6-$8, probably because there's a tiny scuff mark on them rendering them Business Unsuitable (don't care).

The environmentally friendly alternative to both of those are the Ecosystem notebooks, which I remember Borders plugging fairly heavily just before its demise (RIP). They're marked out by "architect" (gridded), "artist" (blank) or "author" (lined) and they're quite pretty, although in line with Moleskine pricing at $14.95 for a medium.

An idea that's been around for centuries but resurfaced in 2011 is that of writing shorter entries but maintaining consistency. Credited for bringing this back: Gretchen Rubin, author of the blockbuster THE HAPPINESS PROJECT (a book I liked! and even own) who committed to writing a sentence a day in her journal to remember those things that would otherwise go unnoticed. She has since come out with a HAPPINESS PROJECT-branded one-sentence journal designed to take you through 5 years, though there are others on the market already. It's a cute idea as long as you're not prone to losing things (ahem).

But if you really really want to start writing on paper again, my advice would be to keep the stakes low. Buy a plain notebook or even one of those two-column steno books and save the fancy stuff for later. All you have to do is start.

17 December 2011

Caption this photo, part 2


CAREY MULLIGAN AS DAISY: Think Oscar. Think Oscar. Think Oscar.
LEO DICAPRIO AS GATSBY: I have taught her well.
TOBEY MAGUIRE GOT THIS JOB SOMEHOW: Ladies.
CAREY MULLIGAN AS DAISY: Now you listen to me Hollywood Foreign Press. I didn't get this far in my film career to be upstaged by Michael Fassbender's... Fassbender.
LEO DICAPRIO AS GATSBY: I put a dress on and no one even noticed. Can I have another drink? It'll help me stay in character.
TOBEY MAGUIRE GOT THIS JOB SOMEHOW: You know, if you think about it, Nick Carraway really is the romantic hero of THE GREAT GATSBY. You could even argue that Gatsby... is part of him.
CAREY MULLIGAN AS DAISY: For real Tobey, have you read this book? Have you read anything since THE CIDER HOUSE RULES?
TOBEY MAGUIRE GOT THIS JOB SOMEHOW: I'm surprised you were allowed to read it considering that you were born that year.
CAREY MULLIGAN AS DAISY: Still taller than you.
TOBEY MAGUIRE GOT THIS JOB SOMEHOW: Way harsh, Tai.
LEO DICAPRIO AS GATSBY: Will you stop talking. You're both in my light.
THE OTHER GUY, WHO IS PLAYING TOM BUCHANAN ACCORDING TO WIKIPEDIA: I gained all this weight. It better be worth it.

Also, since a release date was officially announced:


get my countdown

Some of you may feel like the end of the Mayan calendar will be a blessing!

Photo credit: Daily Mail (UK)

16 December 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens, who passed away last night after battling esophageal cancer:

"I can remember thinking, of testing moments involving love and hate, that I had, so to speak, come out of them ahead, with some strength accrued from the experience that I couldn’t have acquired any other way. And then once or twice, walking away from a car wreck or a close encounter with mayhem while doing foreign reporting, I experienced a rather fatuous feeling of having been toughened by the encounter. But really, that’s to say no more than 'There but for the grace of god go I,' which in turn is to say no more than 'The grace of god has happily embraced me and skipped that unfortunate other man.'" --Vanity Fair, Jan '12 issue

Treat Yourself 2011: Knicknacks You Don't Need (But Probably Want Anyway)

Before I got hooked on writing in the books I owned, I went through a Post-It note phase and I still go through way too many for this so-called paperless society. Novelty Post-Its are the kind of stocking stuffer I actually use, particularly when they're funny -- like these floppy disk sticky notes (MoMA Store, $9.95). For a standalone gift, maybe pair them with some sushi notepads (MoMA Store, $18.95) -- fitting, as earlier, for that coworker you drew in Secret Santa but who you don't actually know.

For when you run out of charity address labels (or move)... set your library apart with a personalized embosser (Neiman Marcus, $26). Impossibly classy. I don't even think libraries use these any more.

It won't do anything to assuage your guilt about going digital, but a Kindle cover that picks up on a classic book cover (like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST or THE GREAT GATSBY) is mighty clever. You can also design your own literary-themed case on the site. (M-Edge, $30).

This might actually cross the border into need: On one of my flights over Thanksgiving I was stuck in a seat whose overhead light was broken, and me with a stack of books I was dying to get into. I thought longingly of all the book lights I had owned over the years... where were they now? This is one area where you don't really need to spend more to get something better (see: SE Clip-On Light, Amazon.com, $3.20) unless you're design-finicky, in which case I suggest The Really Tiny Booklight (MOMA Store, $14).

Love: A fully charged Kindle. Hate: Tripping over its cord (and the 800 others to which I seem to be constantly attached) when trying to charge up. For making sure my Kindle (or, for your Kindle-app-enabled device) has enough juice to make good on its dozens of books, I'm looking for a charging station like this whimsical Kikkerland Grass Charging Station (Amazon.com, $25).It's one of those gifts that other people will actually take an interest in when your recipient unwraps it. (Also something I assume you could make if you're handy with an X-Acto knife, which I am not.)

15 December 2011

Treat Yourself 2011: Paperbacks For Days!

I love paperbacks as gifts. I think all the books I'm giving as gifts this year are paperbacks (don't worry, I won't spoil them in case anyone from my family is reading), and most of them hearken back to experiences I and the recipient have shared, jokes we have made or topics we both generally enjoy. In that sense it's really as fun to pick them out as to go down on Christmas morning and see what they've picked out for me. Because, while not materialistic in general, I really enjoy looking for gifts.

Here are some paperbacks I enjoyed in 2011 that you may find useful for your gifting needs:

For the current events addict taking a busman's holiday: I never get tired of talking about Leslie Chang's great investigative book FACTORY GIRLS, on China's marketing boom and its effects on young members of the population leaving their homes to chase new opportunities. I thought of it even more after reviewing (and liking) Tom Scocca's BEIJING WELCOMES YOU this August, in case you want to splurge on a hardcover and a paperback (for that special someone). Potential 2011 hooks: The death of Steve Jobs and the controversy over worker deaths in Apple factories abroad; the fact that three women were named as sharing the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize; American unemployment rates and the Republican presidential field's solutions (or, depending on the relative, failure to come up with solutions).

For anybody obsessed with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: Symptoms include desire to read about mysterious murders constantly, supernatural motive assignation, inability to stop talking about DRAGON TATTOO, and the fruitless purchase of other novels whose authors bear vaguely Scandinavian last names. Try Laura Kasischke's THE RAISING, which brings the creepiness crossed with some SECRET HISTORY-style coverup on a college campus -- but no lessons. No hugging and no learning!

For friends who are girls, or possibly girlfriends: I didn't realize how well Elaine Dundy's THE DUD AVOCADO went over as a pick at my book club until we were going over the year in pints 'n' discussions. Originally published in 1958, it's a kind of zany travelogue anchored by Sally Jay Gorse, an American wannabe actress in Paris who gets herself into a variety of scrapes and to me was reminiscent of the plucky Lucy Maud Montgomery heroines of my youth -- though not without consequences.

For fellow Top 10 list junkies: One of the problems with end-of-the-year best-of book lists is that keeping up with them can be so pricey, and if you can drop $200 on the New York Times best books of the year without blinking, I envy your resolve. So I'm happy to highlight two books making frequent appearances on these lists that also just came out in paperback, Tea Obreht's THE TIGER'S WIFE (also a National Book Award finalist) and Karen Russell's SWAMPLANDIA -- as examples of a trend I would like to see more of in the future.

For your younger cousin who is planning to major in English just like you and wants to talk about how theories are blowing his/her mind all the time: Yeah, I don't know anyone like that here... but if I did I would definitely go back in time and give that girl a copy of THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM for that inevitable moment when Winter Break feels completely claustrophobic and the ol' thinking muscles are starting to atrophy.

Additionally two of the new books I put on my Top 10 of 2011 So Far list, THE BLOW-OFF and THE MOMENT, are available in paperback -- read and love them, please! (And BOSSYPANTS is out Jan. 3, in case you are planning to swap presents late enough to make that information useful.)

(While we're on that topic, I recently read a Salon op-ed by an author who made one of these interim lists, only to feel completely destroyed when she didn't make the top 10 of the year on Amazon. What I would like to say to this author, and I don't mean to downplay her achievement, but: No one is going to assume that your book lost greatness from now until then. No one's going to remember! And only a real jerk would point out that you were on the list "for a while" -- in part because Amazon's internal layout is so confusing that said real jerk would have to spend a long time rebutting you. So disregard that real jerk! Here's what you're going to do, you're going to put a screenshot of your achievement on your website, and then you are going to drink some champagne and it's going to be fine.)

14 December 2011

John Waters in a submarine

From Publishers Lunch today:

Film director, actor, writer, and visual artist John Waters's untitled "undercover travel adventure," to Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus, who published Waters' memoir Role Models last year, by Bill Clegg at William Morris Endeavor (NA).

I don't know why I first read this blurb as "underwater travel adventure," but somehow I want to read that book more now. Sigh.

13 December 2011

"At first I did not know it was your diary"

Seven of the top 10 films of 2011 according to the American Film Institute are book adaptations.

12 December 2011

Dept. of Don't Even Know Which Side I'm On Anymore

I would like to know how independent booksellers think they can keep people from "showrooming," that is, browsing in a bookstore and then buying a book elsewhere. Will all cell phone users in bookstores be looked at with suspicion? Can admission be charged? Is there a statute of limitations on this purchase -- say, if I think of a book 6 months after I see it in a store, do I have to go back to that particular store in order to buy it? Am I the enemy just because I don't always go into a bookstore intending to buy something? (Yes, apparently!)
 
If you think about it, every brick-and-mortar store welcomes browsers under no obligation to buy. Just because the biggest competitor in the space has a name doesn't mean the game is any different. How do independent clothing stores compete with Wal-Mart and Target? (Or, I don't know, Banana Republic if you feel that the price differential is too much.) How does a farmer's market compete with Safeway or Whole Foods? Not by letting it be known that casual shoppers are unwelcome, or (as one commenter on the above-linked blog post mentions) "stealing." I would suspect that the story is more like: People who buy books from independent bookstores probably buy more books on average than other consumers, whether it's from online stores, indies or chains. There has to be a better way than alienating those buyers, likely the most loyal customers, on behalf of some of their purchases.

One-Star Revue: THE HUNGER GAMES

For the record, I would give this book: 3 stars. (CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINJAY, each 2 stars.)

  • "I was left with a dark, yucky feeling at the end."
  • "Like a bad Michael Bay movie, the plot is all action."
  • "I love this book, I would absolutely rate it five stars if it was not a blatant rip off of several Japanese stories I already know."
  • "I got tired of reading about the emotions Katniss felt about her father. Over and over the same emotions were reviewed." (Ed. Someone send this person a copy of THE PSYCHOPATH TEST.)
  • "My 7th grader is required to read this for her language class, and wanted me to read it so I could discuss some of her homework questions with her. I spent 4 hrs. last night reading it. Then I spent a sleepless night having nightmares related to the plot."
  • "Yes, Suzanne Collins has typed an entire book onto page, yes. I give her a hi-5 because I have never written a book."
  • "THE HUNGER GAMES is like a violent version of a Nicholas Sparks novel." (!!!!!!!)
  • "I wish I could have read a review discouraging me to read this book." (Ed. Uh...)

11 December 2011

Having brunch alone and need something to geek out over forever? The Millions' A Year In Reading 2011, featuring Ayelet Waldman, Jennifer Egan, Chad Harbach, Colum McCann...

10 December 2011

Treat Yourself 2011: Gift Sets For The Very Good

I'm starting with the extravagant gift books for no other reason than that it's kind of nice to play J.C. Penney Catalog 1989 sometimes with the 800,000 gift guides out there, while acknowledging that they may not be in your budget or mine.

(Links are to publishers where I could find them; sure, use Amazon, and I do, but don't forget your local independent bookstore.)

For the aesthete: Whenever I see these Penguin Hardcover Classics with their old-timey printed cloth covers, the craftsmanship to them is just amazing. Single volumes are $20, or splurge on the Major Works of Charles Dickens (GREAT EXPECTATIONS, HARD TIMES, OLIVER TWIST, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, BLEAK HOUSE and A TALE OF TWO CITIES) for $125.

For the budding chef: Julia Child, you're so 2009. Raise the stakes with THE ESSENTIAL THOMAS KELLER ($63), a two-volume cookbook by the madman behind French Laundry and Bouchon. For the hipster chef at hipster pricing, look to Christina Tosi's MOMOFUKU MILK BAR ($22), purported to offer the secrets behind the East Village bakery. Compost cookies for everyone (note: much more delicious than it sounds).

For the fashion-minded (fashionista is kind of sexist, do you think?): Patrick Demarchelier's DIOR COUTURE ($70) for the old avant-garde; ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: SAVAGE BEAUTY ($45) for the new.

For those who can take a joke: By the time I got my first issue of MAD Magazine it was already in its sunset years (down to 6 issues/ year right now, from what I can find). Soon there will come a generation of kids who don't understand how a fold-in joke panel works... but by God, not this one. Chronicle Books just published THE MAD FOLD-IN COLLECTION, 1964-2010 ($125), whose digital reproductions mean you won't actually have to fold in the pages to get the joke.

For your favorite bartender, friend in imbibing, uncle or party host: It takes a university press to do service to such a serious subject as THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER ($65). Also consider for your recently-of-age sibling who could stand to learn a thing or two about the finer points of not drinking from kegs any more, ahem.

09 December 2011

From player to winner: THE HUNGER GAMES and MOCKINGJAY

982: That's the number of words I used in Monday's post about THE HUNGER GAMES without remotely getting to the point I wanted to address when I decided to read the popular young-adult series. I feel that my curiosity was satisfied by the first two books in the series, but called into question a little by the third, MOCKINGJAY.*

For me the appeal of THE HUNGER GAMES lies in the hands of its stubborn, prickly, at times decidedly unlikeable protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Katniss doesn't like you, she doesn't like the attention brought on by the Games and what she sees as the falseness of the enterprise. As a preteen I devoured books where the protagonist discovers that s/he is somehow special and elevated, but Katniss harbors no such illusions; she always knows what she is and isn't capable of, and it's only the rest of the world that's catching up to her. That's why her performance in THE HUNGER GAMES isn't unbelievable or improbable. She resists that Mary Sue-ish necessity of suffering from self-doubt; what people tell her she is doesn't make an impact. She doesn't have to be "special" to be exceptional.

Her self-determination allows her passage through some of the perils of the Games; she doesn't seem specifically tempted to play the heroine, and when she does, it's an impulsive decision. (More on that in a bit.) I'm not well read enough in YA to say that she's the first nihilist in the field, but she's probably not in much company there. I would have quit the series much earlier if accompanied by a chirpy Pollyanna down into the depths.

Before I get into spoiler territory, a word: I haven't been able to confirm my suspicion that the HUNGER GAMES trilogy began life as one self-contained book (that is, CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY were the brainchildren of the publisher after reading THE HUNGER GAMES, not what the author had originally envisioned). It is my suspicion that this is the case. But even that would not fully explain why THE HUNGER GAMES is taut, well paced from the opening of the Games on -- I could have done without some of the costuming and pageantry, frankly -- CATCHING FIRE is better paced, but performs the classic middle-book-of-the-trilogy deus ex machina, and the ultimate volume in the series is an overstuffed mess.

Spoiler discussion through MOCKINJAY will now commence.

No, seriously.

Get out.

At the end of CATCHING FIRE (told you! Turn back now!), as you know or are resigned to finding out, on the point of certain death, Katniss is yanked out of the Quarter Quell (a Very Special Anniversary Hunger Games) by the resistance forces who have amassed in District 13. Because of the defiance she showed in the first book, she's being elevated to play a role in their reality television, the on-camera leader of the resistance -- although in practice, Katniss will have to defer to President Coin. The name they give her is the Mockinjay, the hybrid creatures that ironically can only copy poor human singing, not sing or speak for their own the way that Katniss is scripted into promos for the rebels. (Shades of "Wag the Dog" here -- and that was much appreciated in this quarter.)

Trouble is, the way that Katniss has been defined runs at odds to the task she and the fellow rebels are facing up to -- of taking over the Capitol -- and if her adventures up to this point have changed her, it's mighty difficult to tell. She still doesn't play well with others, she still doesn't take criticism, and her resistance to the role that the movement wants her to play starts to take their valuable time away from, oh, I don't know, military strategy? And her character starts to roll downhill from stubborn and self-determined to bratty and dangerous. Risking the security of the compound for Prim's cat, for example, may not be strictly a selfish act, but it seems out of character for her.

All of these are challenges Katniss could work through if given more room on the page, but MOCKINGJAY is forced to run those conflicts double-time against the war with the Capitol and the forthcoming invasion. At the risk of sounding like the ivory-tower litsnob we all know I am, too much happens in this book! The events compressed into MOCKINGJAY should have spooled out over two books, not only to salvage the abruptness of the ending -- really, an epilogue? -- but to keep building Katniss as a character in the same realistic way the first two books did. She's our portal into this place, and mostly I cared about the political upheaval of MOCKINGJAY through her eyes. So the conflict isn't fruitful because it elides things that I as a reader wanted to see, and pushes through the changes in Katniss in an unrealistic manner.

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy parts of MOCKINGJAY, but I should have been staying up late reading it; instead I put it down for weeks between starting and finishing it, so the one truly shocking twist -- the President Snow double-crossing revelation -- didn't pack the punch it needed. (Which is not to say I don't want to talk about it, because clearly I do.) I can't say definitively that this book was lost in editing, because no one can see that who isn't directly involved, but I could have used more room. As I understand that the "Mockingjay" movie will be a two-parter (a la "Breaking Dawn" or "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"), this may afford an opportunity to correct it onscreen -- if more aspects of the series aren't broken in order to get there.

*I just discovered in stirring up this post that I have been spelling MOCKINGJAY wrong all this time. All this time! But it just looks wrong with that added G!

08 December 2011


Today I'd like to thank the Internet for creating Hey girl. I like the library too. a Fuck Yeah! Ryan Gosling for a niche audience.

07 December 2011

(Nerds) Who Run The World

Wow, you'll really know Lev Grossman is ascendant at Time Magazine when you check out its #1 fiction book of the year. Not that I'm complaining (though I haven't read the book in question).

Filmbook: "Moneyball" (2011)

One of the reasons book people hold books above the movies based on them is a matter of complexity. The effective delivery of information simply looks different on page and onscreen, and a wholly moderate level of exposition can be overwhelming when transferred to images or dialogue. It's probably for the best that the film adaptation of Michael Lewis' MONEYBALL largely glosses over the statistics the book labors to explain, because it brings across the sense of them fairly well. It's the simplification of the themes that gets this movie in trouble.

"Moneyball" chronicles the end of the Oakland A's 2001 season and the 2002 season, as general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) struggles to implement a new system for finding the best players to fill out his roster. Beane decides to do this after losing three of his best players, losing a close postseason series and failing to get more money from the team owner --  and hires a young econ major from Yale (Jonah Hill) who recommends players based on generating wins for the team, not simply standout stats on their own. Everyone thinks Beane is crazy (including his manager, who resists implementing his ideas about who ought to play and in what order) and the A's seem to start the season proving that this new approach will never work. Then... they start winning.

The sense I got when I read MONEYBALL was that Beane and his right-hand man Paul DePodesta (fictionalized in this movie in Hill's character -- also, I notice he works for the Mets now, so good luck with that!) were the young, brash new guys trying to come up with a solution to an old problem, unafraid to fail. This is preserved in the movie, but with an added layer of emotional conflict wherein Beane's sabermetrics approach could destroy the game of baseball as we know it -- and when he decides to implement that, it comes at a terrible price. There are soundbites from old men calling baseball "the children's game" (a phrase I had never heard before), romantic shots of empty stadia, and talk of the intangibles that will be jeopardized forever by the A's and their spreadsheets. Maybe this is meant to add resonance, but it just confused me when all other elements are pointing toward the heroic GM in his lonely weight room because he can't bear to watch his own team from the stands. It moves in the opposite direction from everything else. It all really comes to a head at the end of the movie, when Beane has to make a choice -- and I could feel the tug of a Big Emotional Moment, but it didn't move me at all. (And it didn't justify at all why he makes the choice he does.)

"Moneyball" was enjoyable enough, but not a standout movie for me, in part because I feel like this movie prodded me to root against my own self-interest. It's not as simple as calculator vs. heart,  because if it were, I wouldn't have been that interested in Beane's story in the first place, because my own personal connection to baseball stubbornly falls on one side of that line as long as we're falsely dichotomizing.

I'm not sure who to fault for this, given how labored over this project was before hitting the big screen. Director Bennett Miller brings some of the space and silence he used so well in "Capote" (along with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is slightly underused here as the A's manager) but gets caught up in scoring and underlining some of those moments he might have let lie. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was brought in in the middle, and snuck at least one walk-and-talk in there -- but he's hardly the only one to be bit by the mythology bug.

Would I have liked it better if Steven Soderbergh (who allegedly wanted to incorporate interviews from the real players rather than actors playing them, and why a studio would balk at that I have no idea) and screenwriter Steven Zaillian had stayed on? It's hard to say at this point. But "Moneyball" lacked something for me -- maybe one of those intangibles it is claimed will be lost should its hero get what he wants.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book, maybe see the movie.

06 December 2011

Today's Times features the forthcoming "Cloud Atlas" adaptation in an article about global financing for American independent movies. Spoilers for the movie abound, but crucially: This sounds awesome, and yes, David Mitchell was involved in the screenplay to a certain extent.

Repent, for the end of 2011 is nigh!

I had to submit my pick for the best book of the year yesterday. Just like last year, I am slightly below 100% absolutely sure of my pick, although when I wrote it down I couldn't think of anything else to go in that box. So I just let a computer choose for me instead. How we critique books in 2011!!!

Just kidding. It is a frustration and a joy to go through every year, and also reminds me (as I look back) of how much my reading is shaped by forces outside the actual pages -- like how what I read for pleasure colors what I'm reading to evaluate, which in itself is a fairly blurry line. Maybe I should remember that before snap-judging another critic's choices... just because it looks ill-considered doesn't mean that it is.

Anyway, I won't put together my full best-books list together till the end of December in a feeble attempt at reaching some semblance of perspective. But I have so much other stuff to write about:
  • More on THE HUNGER GAMES, after I belatedly realized that I failed to make the point I really wanted to make, and something about MOCKINJAY. (Unintentional Blog Sweeps Week 2011! All your clicks are belong to me!)
  • The onslaught of prestige film season and the adaptations you should care about, starring George Clooney as the anti-Ryan Bingham, young Marty Scorsese, Brad Pitt's bangs...
  • The Return of the Ghost of the Holiday Gift Guide -- for people who are going to get books whether they want them or not, and also for the book-loving people in your life who already have everything. Or so they think. 
In the meantime, I would be interested to know: What, in your opinion, should I absolutely make time to read before the end of the year? I can't guarantee I'll actually get to it, but if you've picked your favorite, or at least one you think people should try above all others, let's hear it. 

05 December 2011

Not here for your entertainment: on THE HUNGER GAMES

Living in the totalitarian post-apocalyptic state of Panem, the setting of Suzanne Collins' HUNGER GAMES trilogy, improves marginally after you turn 18. You still don't get to vote, thanks to a long-ago uprising that converted the country into 13 districts that orbit an all-powerful Capitol district, and depending on whether you live in one of the richer or poorer districts your day-to-day life might be pretty hard. But at least you don't have to fight a bunch of other teenagers to the death on live TV! That's the gist of the Hunger Games, the annual event purported to mark the uprising, in which two "tributes" from each of 12 districts are taken to the Capitol and forced to kill each other for sport. Sort of like the Killer Olympics if all the contestants were drawn from youth-favoring sports like gymnastics or swimming. How Roman!

We the readers experience the Hunger Games through contestant Katniss Everdeen, of District 12 (mine country, one of the poorest). Katniss' name wasn't drawn originally, but she volunteers to spare her 12-year-old sister Primrose from the Games, betting on the fact that her years of hunting illegally to feed and support her mother and Prim after their father was killed in a mining accident would afford her a better chance when it came to surviving in the Games arena and (if necessary) killing another contestant.

Like Harry Potter, Katniss is the product of circumstance, pulled into this barbaric ritual by chance, who becomes a flashpoint for other people in Panem to recognize just how monstrous the reality they've been accepting really is. Surely, Voldemort would not have just gone away had baby Harry Potter perished, and the degree to which Katniss becomes a figurehead  But there's no "Boy Who Lived" magic around Katniss. She goes into the Games seeing through all the fanfare, unable to enjoy the attention, and convinced that she will be dead sooner or later -- probably knocked off by some of the better fed and trained tributes, or even her own fellow District 12 tribute, baker's son Peeta Mellark. Although she regards him fondly for once giving her bread from his family's trash heap, Katniss distrusts Peeta thoroughly, and more so when she discovers his strategy for the Games is to make everyone believe he's in love with her.

And that's the surprise at the heart of THE HUNGER GAMES -- a trenchant and stinging critique of reality TV, disguised as YA survivalist fiction (or a totalitarian torture-adventure, if you prefer). While the citizens of Panem would probably vote to abolish the Hunger Games if they could vote, and mourn the children -- let's not even call them teenagers anymore -- who go, they all tune in to the annual event as if it's a combination of the World Series and the Super Bowl. (Not that there are professional sports in the post-apocalypse.) It's not established for sure, but one supposes the Capitol has adapted to cater to this interest by airing interviews with each player, featuring pre-Games makeovers and costumes, and -- later -- by flashing daily memorials to all the tributes who have fallen during the games, while the few contestants who are left hope the others aren't watching for them.

As Katniss prepares for the Hunger Games, she thinks back to previous "episodes" she's seen and the strategies that helped previous "players" "win" the Games. Make yourself vulnerable gathering supplies at the start, or make yourself scarce? Form alliances, or play alone knowing that they'll end? Complicating her choices is the ability of "viewers" to send her aid -- medical supplies or food, for example -- if she plays to their sympathies in some way, adding an additional unreal layer to an already surreal situation. It gives her no solace to be reminded, as Katniss is frequently, that her mother and sister can see every injury she sustains during the Games. If she pretends she's in love with Peeta too, will that give her any chance of survival (in a situation where even a little advantage is significant) or just make her last few days on earth disingenuous as well as dangerous?

The winner of the annual Hunger Games gets a PR tour, a paid-for house and freedom from want for the rest of her life, but will always be known to the victims' families as the one who made it out at the expense of everyone else. And, as becomes clear deeper into the series, the champion is trotted out to justify each year's Games, the unwilling success of one traded on for the glory of all. No wonder Haymitch, the previous District 12 champion assigned to mentor Katniss and Peeta, is a drunken mess.

The high-contrast horror of the Hunger Games (inspired, Collins has said, by watching Iraq war footage, although a better parallel might be the child soldiers of Africa) makes the short-lived CBS reality show "Kid Nation" look like "Captain Kangaroo." And to the best of my knowledge no one is yet forcing people to participate in the various humiliations of reality TV. But as a mechanism that's built to shock, it works. At one point in the Games, Katniss forms an alliance she doubts will even help her with a 12-year-old from District 11, simply out of pity because the girl reminds her of her sister, with predictably tragic results. We don't learn a huge amount about how the Panem rulers keep all the other districts in line, which I see as a nod toward the fact that our narrator probably wouldn't know that -- certainly not as she prepares to travel to the Capitol for the first time. Still, something about Katniss' "performance" shakes the system loose, or at least loose enough to throw the future of the Hunger Games in doubt -- maybe the best news to the people watching at home, who may actually be hungry, and have no hope.

04 December 2011

"To Smiley, his stoicism had something awesome about it."
- John le Carré

03 December 2011

One-Star Revue: THE ENGLISH PATIENT

All real 1-star Amazon customer reviews. No spoilers.
I would give this book: four stars.
  • "It was a cold and godless kind of story from beginning to end."
  • "This book is like a mix between David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," Jhonen Vasquez's "Happy Noodle Boy" strips, and "Crossroads" (with Britney Spears!)." (Ed. note: What?)
  • " I couldn't identify with any of the characters (thank God)."
  • "I too can conjure up beautiful cliches." (Ed. note: Good for you!!!)
  • "Elmore Leonard says that he leaves out the parts which the reader skips over. If Ondaatje had done that here, he could have ended up with quite a tantalising short story."
  • "It's quite obvious from the tone of the book that the only character this author cares about is himself! Soooo tedious that every time I sat down to read, I found myself thinking about watering my tomato plants, which would have been a LOT more interesting. I could write more, but that would just give this book free advertising, which is something I DEFINITELY DON'T want to do." 
  • "This book does not pose any questions I care to have answered. Period" 

02 December 2011

01 December 2011

God bless us, everyone

Aw hooray! Housing Works Books is bringing back the CHRISTMAS CAROL readathon they did last year. Don't miss it! I'll be in the back with the wine.

Unbookening's gonna make it through this year if it kills me

Checked 6 books out from the library
Bought 5 (1 on Kindle)

Returned 2 to a friend
Returned 2 to the library
Donated 8

I didn't like you either, November, so let's just move on.