31 May 2012

Happy birthday, Walt Whitman

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the day; 
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme—myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme: 
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future; 
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings—on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river; 
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away; 
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them; 
The certainty of others—the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 
  
Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to shore; 
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide; 
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east; 
Others will see the islands large and small; 
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high; 
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them, 
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.  
-From "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

30 May 2012

"There's no good night noises anywhere!"


Look who had a cameo in this week's episode of "Mad Men"! I grew up with this book and as it was published in 1947, it was around early enough for (non-plot-revealing-spoiler) Pete to read to his kid in the cookie-cutter suburb of Cos Cob that he hates.

On porn

It's interesting to look at the cooked-up media furor over the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY trilogy (which I still haven't gotten around to reading, but am opining on anyway, as one does) as a reflection of accepted ideas about what I will delicately call the sexy entertainments.

What we "know" about straight-male-marketed video pornography and straight-female-marketed romance novels, based on my limited exposure to both, is that they are both poorly written and laughably unbelievable. ("The sexy teacher wants to see me after class?") Undoubtedly people consume both Academy Award-winning movies and the "After Dark" section of hotel in-room rentals. Perhaps even in the same trip! As people who might read FIFTY SHADES and then move onto THE MARRIAGE PLOT for their book club.

I appreciate the dubbing of FIFTY SHADES as "mommy porn" because it has been mostly read by women and initially earned its viral success among women, some of whom have children. It's fun to imagine all the moms at the playground whispering about Christian Grey, as the New York Post implied in its first story about FIFTY SHADES, even though it was probably their nannies at those Upper East Side playgrounds and not them. Even as it already falls apart, that's the accepted story, but it's problematic because it implies that "mommies" are into a certain kind of porn, and they're into it because something about their sex lives (or if you prefer, lives, generally) is disappointing, and it satisfies some need there. And that no one who doesn't fall into that category could possibly be into it, so if you're into it you must be all of those things, and ugh you are such a stereotype, and how dare you, etc.

There are plenty of strong objections one can make to FIFTY SHADES, but "gross, women enjoy it!" is a weak one. And if your biggest objection to FIFTY SHADES is that it's poorly written, I can only assume that your erotic entertainment of choice is all well-written and/or of Academy Award/ Pulitzer-level visual quality. I'm pretty sure their readers realize how badly written these books are. They read them for other reasons. (This excellent blog post compared that line of argument to "Fast food is bad for you, so we should tell everyone not to eat it as if there are people who don't already know that.")

29 May 2012

Summer Reading 2012


Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, I WANT MY MTV
Gretchen Rubin, FORTY WAYS TO LOOK AT WINSTON CHURCHILL
Cari Beauchamp, JOSEPH P. KENNEDY PRESENTS
Francine Prose, READ LIKE A WRITER
Jonathan Franzen, THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY
James Wood, HOW FICTION WORKS
Nick Hornby, MORE BATHS, LESS TALKING (pub. August) 

Robert Moses, THE POWER BROKER
Richard Yates, COLLECTED STORIES
Katharine Graham, PERSONAL HISTORY


28 May 2012

Rufus Wainwright, "Out Of The Game"

Helena Bonham Carter plays a librarian with an imagination. Briefly NSFW. From the album of the same name, which is terrific.

25 May 2012

Taking the L to Literary Upstart

Last night I went to Literary Upstart, a new-to-me short reading competition put on by The L Magazine. Literary Upstart consists of 3 "semifinal" readings in which 5 readers square off against a judges' panel (including New Yorker/ McSweeney's regular Ben Greenman) and a final round on June 27 with the winner to be published in the magazine. I had heard of this contest before, but in the interest of full disclosure I wasn't planning to go until I unexpectedly won a $20 bar tab for the event by answering a trivia question on Twitter. It eased my decision process, we shall say. (For this reason, I suggest that you follow them because I know they gave out a few such prizes during the week.)

From what I can tell, here's how to get an advantage in a competitive reading like this:
1. Read something short. The shortest reading of the night can be the most memorable just within that.
2. Try not to go first, because the crowd gets rowdy. (If possible.)
3. Practice reading aloud so as not to stumble over words, or to be aware that your two named characters have rhyming names, or any other irregularities. (Those were both called out by the judges, which didn't seem very fair but there is a performative aspect that you can't overlook, I guess.)
4. Try to be the only funny reading in a wall of seriousness, or the only serious reading among the jokes. (Again, no way to really do this.)
5. Be mindful that everyone is looking at you while you are hearing the judges' comments. Nothing funny happened with that, but I can see how it would be possible to forget.

Anyway, I didn't write down the individual names of the readers, and wish I had, but I can't find them now sadly. My favorite reader was #4 in the lineup (first man to read); my partner in crime picked #2.

They all read, and then while the judges deliberated there was a trivia round featuring, apparently, random members of the audience. If they had asked for volunteers I would have stepped up due to having just consumed one pilsner and having high self-esteem. As panelists missed questions related to the New School, Henry James and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS BASIL E FRANKWEILER, my partner in crime suggested that I "should have Kanye'd the stage" at this point. Maybe I should have! I believe the person who got 1 question right won the whole thing. Then they announced the reading winner, who wasn't who I had predicted, although I liked his story all right.

The event was held in an exposed-brick event room at a new hotel in Williamsburg called the Wythe. I didn't see the hotel itself, but the back room features a very nice bar and easily fit maybe 75-100 people seated in rows with plenty of space around. To enter the space, though, we had to cut through a sketchy alley behind the hotel proper. I noticed walking back to the L train (for which the magazine is named) that we were close to the Brooklyn Bowl and the Brooklyn Brewery, both fun places to hang out, and I can't think of another hotel in Williamsburg itself, so if you are looking to visit, check it out.

While I was fact-checking this post (oh, you fancy, huh) I noticed that the final submission deadline to enter Literary Upstart is Monday, so I'm going to cut down a piece I conveniently have sitting around and send it in. Here's the information on that. Don't worry, if I get picked I will let you all know and you can chide me for not following any of my rules that I just named above.

24 May 2012

The author of this infuriating "Are Books Too Long?" op-ed is going to hate the cornerstone of my summer reading 2012 list. Hint, hint.

On PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN

Last month at the Tribeca Film Festival I went to a movie called "Keep the Lights On" that was particularly devastating. The film follows a filmmaker and a writer who meet on a phone-sex line and embark on a nine-year affair, but one's drug problem (predating the relationship) continually interrupts their happier times, culminating in an intervention and a long, torturous separation. Again and again, the drugs get in the way. Early in the film, the addict (played by Zachary Booth) is unafraid to do drugs in front of his new lover, who he has invited over to the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, but does so with a wink, because people in publishing love to gossip, he says.

Publishing seems no more gossip-prone than other occupations, but the remark passed through the fourth wall for anybody in the audience. "Keep The Lights On"'s writer-director Ira Sachs has openly admitted to the fact that the relationship chronicled was his, and this is his story. His ex's account, the 2010 memoir PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT AS A YOUNG MAN, portrays Sachs as "Noah," the patient and considerate boyfriend whom drugs make peripheral.

To be clear, Bill Clegg's memoir covers only snippets of the relationship, concentrating on the last binges that presaged the visit to rehab that stuck (there were others). There are also scenes from Clegg's childhood breaking up his already slim memoir with hazy recollections of growing up. I didn't realize before I started it, but I came to the memoir looking for some shape of an answer. "Keep the Lights On" shows the circumstances of trying to live with someone who is an addict, but it doesn't address how this man becomes an addict.

PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT doesn't answer the whys of Clegg's addiction, but it doesn't seem fair to hold the book accountable for it. That it feels false, though, the text has to answer for. I don't doubt that it happened as he said, to the extent that his memory allows, but I found his account of the fall suspiciously clean, occasionally even elegant. In an excerpt I first read in New York magazine, Clegg is bound for the Berlin Film Festival to support "Noah," only to get sidetracked by the desire to get high a few more times, causing him to miss his original flight and a few after. (This incident appears in "Keep the Lights On" from Sachs' perspective, looking around nervously on the red carpet at the point of a career triumph.) The details that stick out are markers of paranoia -- at one point Clegg imagines himself being followed by "Penneys" who have all boarded the plane intending to arrest him in another country -- and, alternately, the extraordinary accommodations Clegg can make for himself in order to continue using. The first-class tickets and hotel accommodations are collateral damage, and he doesn't "enjoy" them by any sense of the word, but there's an unstated luxury in being able to cloak one's addiction in these scenes.

Is that because I have been so taken in by the cultural idea of the crack addict that I couldn't focus on the turmoil and toll that intensive drug use has on Clegg? I would define that idea like this: "Crack addicts are poor, often African-American, unable to hold down a job and tolerating extremely poor living conditions, who use to get away from their misery about their lives in some sense." Clegg is the cofounder of his own business, well-dressed and affluent, none of which makes him less of an addict nor makes his drug problem more serious. Is it any less depraved just because it takes place at the Gansevoort Hotel instead of a stranger's apartment in the Lower East Side projects? (Clegg goes to both of those as he spends out some $60,000 in his bank account on crack, vodka, escorts and hotels. The number sticks. What is the function of that number? How does it fill into what we know of his addiction, and his personality?)

PORTRAIT OF AN ADDICT follows its narrator into a dark place, but these details throw off flares that are somehow intended to illuminate that picture. In the end, I found myself asking: which is worse, to be driven by an addiction that ruins everything in your life that you care about -- or to be the person who loves the addict, doesn't know how to help him, and watches him self-destruct?

23 May 2012

Filmbook-to-be: Trailer for "The Great Gatsby" (2012)

Carey Mulligan, what are you doing? Okay, anyway -- as a heritage Baz loyalist who didn't feel anything from walking out of "Australia," I still want to see it. And DiCaprio's Gatsby, while I wasn't looking forward to it initially, will probably have some interesting wrinkles in it. We knew this wasn't going to be a chamber picture; it'll either be spectacular and great, or spectacular and completely unmoving. For me, I think it's too early to call which, although the Internet has already done that for you if you like. For people griping about how the trailer contains anachronistic Kanye, you are missing the entire point and are recommended to go back and watch "Romeo and Juliet" (my favorite Luhrmann, for the record).

22 May 2012

This week, in things you can't unsee

"A full 8 of Modern Library's Top 100 Fiction Novels were written by women. A whopping 3 of the last 12 recipients of the Man Booker Prize have been women. And a dominating 12 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1909. Finally, though, the giant tit-shadow of overappreciated female authors will be cast aside in the name of paying more attention to what the world would be like through the single, squinty eye of a penis."
--Erin Gloria Ryan on Esquire's announcement that it would start publishing ebooks of "Fiction for Men."

21 May 2012

"I was 35, and now, at 57, I hear someone mention that book virtually once a day. It was not the best book I ever wrote."
-Buzz Bissinger, you are killing me with this dissing of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. I beg you to own it, sir!

Reading the back of the bottle

On Saturday I went to an event associated with Lit Crawl NYC, a bar-reading series that started a few years ago.

I was only able to make it to one reading but I enjoyed it a lot despite the informality of the proceedings. Our host was La Casita, a yarn store and wine bar, and all of the authors' pieces dealt directly with knitting. Perri Klass read an essay about making a vest for her mother, who was in attendance and happy to show off; Beth Hahn writes Victorian mysteries paired with knitting patterns and showed off her own work, which was incredible; and Elinor Lipman read a poem about knitting. (Lipman I was familiar with before, but she's also writing a political poem a day on Twitter, which is swell.)

The Lit Crawl organizers were all decked out in matching A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN T-shirts (I want one!) and buzzed in and out taking pictures and introducing the writers as they came up. There was one patron who wandered in looking for help with yarn and she went away disappointed, but it was such a small store that there was really no place where she could have discussed her potential purchase with one of the store managers. She was a regular, though, so hopefully she'll be back.

Last year's Lit Crawl coincided with the Brooklyn Book Festival but featured bars in the East Village and SoHo; this year, it's been broken out into a Brooklyn edition in May and a Manhattan one in September. My one suggestion would be to spread the readings out over a longer time; in the two hours of Lit Crawl I had a staggering 13 choices and would loved to have seen more. What if the crawl started an hour or two earlier, with fewer events at each time? I'd drink to that.

18 May 2012

"I like people. I write about people. So when they want to tell me things, I'm willing to listen." --Richard Ford, handling an interview that can best be described as "assholic" in the New York Times. Yeah, when I get the chance to talk to someone famous, I always make sure to ask pointed questions and be extremely rude, especially if I can imply that he is an alcoholic and/ or general hater. Andrew Solomon: self-styled Borat, or bad journalist?

17 May 2012


Photo: simon_cocks

Target audience?

I spotted this shirt out in the wild today. It was on the back of a boy, maybe 14, leaving a screening of "The Dictator." As you were.

16 May 2012

"When former pharmaceutical executive Andrew G. Bodnar pleaded guilty to white-collar crime in 2009, the judge didn't throw the book at him—he ordered him to write one.

Reflect upon 'the criminal behavior in this case so that others similarly situated may be guided in avoiding such behavior,' said the judgment from U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in Washington. And make it 75,000 words."

--Wall Street Journal. Insert joke about how much writing sucks here!

15 May 2012

This American Tall Tale

Guess the next "This American Life" contributor to be accused of fabrication (by the Washington Post):
  • Became famous for a workplace chronicle 
  • Once admitted to fabricating a character he worked with in a hospital 
  • Describes his own work as "realish"
  • NPR would like to characterize his work with some kind of introduction indicating
  • Ira Glass would like to fact-check him
  • Mike Daisey says (surprise!) to leave him alone, because the kerfuffle is all about him (yeah...)
Contra Daisey, I would argue that I would be disappointed to find out which parts of this author's body of work were fiction. I'd still read them, because he's terrific -- but warily. Also, I think no one is making the distinction between "exaggerating for humor" and making things up, in that most of us do the former every day without a problem. 

14 May 2012

"For the wolf of a writer, the family is a crowd of sitting ducks. There they assemble at the Thanksgiving table, poor dears — blithering uncles, drugged-out siblings, warring couples — posing for a painting, though they do not know it. The objects of the writer's scrutiny may be as blameless as a day in Williamstown, but in the story he has in mind, the writer, being the freak he is, will infuse his family with warts and all, because defects make for better reading than virtues." --Roger Rosenblatt

Publisher's Weekly ad has questions, we have answers


No, because the Medici called it off at the last minute.
No, because when da Vinci finally comes face-to-face with the killer he decides to paint her instead for international fame. We now know this woman as La Gioconda. Bam, art.
No, because it is far safer to be feared than loved, so Machiavelli decides to hire the killer to do his bidding alone.
No, because the flying machines they were going to use to capture him malfunctioned at the last minute. First prototypes, am I right?
No, because their lasers jammed at the last minute.

13 May 2012

Happy Mother's Day

I dare you not to cry over Will Schwalbe's Times essay about reading along with his mom while she was dying of cancer. 

11 May 2012

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

I couldn't name every teacher I ever had who encouraged me to keep reading; I was lucky there were that many. It would take less time to point out the ones who didn't. For a weird kid who wanted to live in her books, I was dealt a really good hand. But when we're talking strictly of this blog, my biggest influence would be Mrs. S-, even though I no longer remember what we read in her class or how the curriculum was built.

I had Mrs. S- for first- and second-grade Language Arts (what we called "Reading" in the '80s; feel the lasers!) She made us keep a class journal and write constantly, usually at the beginning of class with a sentence of guidance up on the board. It was about spelling and grammar, but more importantly, it was about putting words down on the page, getting into corners and figuring a way out. In her class I met my first poet ever, who sat with us for two days reading his work and helping us with ours. And it was while I was taking her class that I started writing stories that were longer than what we had time for in one class period, stories that when typed bumped against the four-page limit of my child's word-processing program. (But seriously, four pages? Dream bigger.)

That type of real, genuine encouragement is rare and it isn't just empty flattery. Real encouragement treats you to anticipate the bumps and keep you going on your way. And kids, in a classroom or out, know when you're inflating them with hot air instead of sincerely appreciating their contribution. (I don't know why the taxonomists intent on identifying the "Millennial Generation" need to add to our plate that in addition to wanting to make a difference, that we are seemingly too dumb to know when someone's puffing us up.) I don't even know what I saw as my obstacles back then, but they didn't really matter because with the guidance of teachers like Mrs. S- I was fairly confident I could do anything. So in times when I might be thinking of myself as the worst writer in the world (like oh hypothetically last night) I can be reassured to think that the actual worst writer in the world is the one who lets things like that fear get in the way of just writing.

Mrs. S- retired to Michigan some years ago; I'm fairly sure I was in one of her last classes. I've seen a lot of teachers I had retire recently, even one that passed away. Did I ever say thank you enough? Probably not. So on behalf of all the students who are too young, too old, too badly behaved, too distracted or too self-absorbed to say it -- thanks so much for all you do. Know that your efforts are noticed.

10 May 2012


Everything I need to know in life I learned from children's picture books, part 1.

09 May 2012

Written on the body

"Daily Show" creator Lizz Winstead got temporary tattoos for her new memoir LIZZ FREE OR DIE. It is now my mission to acquire one on her New York tour. Wish me luck! (Via Facebook. I believe this is the author's arm... if so I should be asking where she got her terrific pants.)

92. William Kennedy, IRONWEED

This book begins in a cemetery and that's the most uplifting scene in the whole book. No one said hacking through this list would be fun, but I don't think I could handle 99 other books about the depravity and hopelessness of the human condition.

We find Francis Phelan in Great Depression-era Albany, being paid to cover some new graves -- a job he found to pay off the estranged son who last bailed him out of jail. Francis realizes that his parents are buried there, along with his infant son whose death was Francis' fault, and as he hallucinates that the dead people in the cemetery are singling him out for that long-ago death, he leaves the job and starts to drink again. A subsequent series of hallucinations and flashbacks takes Francis back through time in which he was a promising professional baseball player and a father, before guilt over his son's death and the strikebreaker he killed with a rock drove him away from them.

This book took me straight into the way an alcoholic like Francis justifies continuing to drink even when all signs are pointing to "stop drinking." What passes for lucidity from Francis is his internal reasoning that life as a bum (the book's preferred word) really isn't so bad; there are always flophouses and campfires under bridges, and someone with enough money to buy alcohol, although outside of his head the level of "not so bad" looks pretty terrible. For instance, Francis reunites briefly with Helen, his partner in self-destruction ("girlfriend" or "lover" just seems too joyful for their actual relationship) who has a little money with which to get a room for the night, but when they get robbed on the road he leaves her with another bum he knows who has a car. Francis' logic says, "Helen will be safe here with this guy who has a car she can sleep in, so she doesn't freeze to death," but he knows (as Helen later confirms) that the shelter will come at the price of Helen having sex with the car's owner. That Francis is fine with this tradeoff is worse than the tradeoff itself. This type of backward logic makes him unsympathetic, even through his non-self-inflicted troubles.

This book is right next to TOBACCO ROAD on the Modern Library list and they share similarities of economic straits, but while the sharecroppers of Tobacco Road are more or less tied to the land till death, Francis has options -- which makes his delinquency even more frustrating. He finds jobs, but he can't keep them because they interfere with his drinking; truly, it's the only thing that he loves. Even when it's revealed that (spoiler) Francis' wife still lives in Albany and would love to have him move back home, to be well-fed and well-rested, we know that he won't stay. It wears the reader down, but at the same time it's easy to understand why his son would just want to give up on him.

Knowing before I started that it took place among alcoholics during the Depression, I hadn't expected IRONWEED to be some kind of happy hobo story, but I didn't think it would be quite so effectively depressing. I read that this is just one book in Kennedy's trilogy about Depression-era Albany, without a consensus as to which of the three books are the best (the other two being LEGS and BILLY PHELAN'S GREATEST GAME), although IRONWEED won the Pulitzer. There's also a movie I am not likely to sit through featuring Jack Nicholson as Francis and Meryl Streep as Helen, plus Tom Waits (no, really) as one of Francis' bum friends.

Ellen vs. ML: 57 read, 43 unread

Next up: I'm still reading FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, very slowly. I feel guilty about wanting the war to start so it will get more interesting.


And here's a pretty picture of Ironweed, the flower (Vernonia gigantea), via Growin' Wild.

08 May 2012

RIP Maurice Sendak



He lived to see his most famous work made into a live-action movie and criticize Stephen Colbert's authorial skills. Sendak was 83.


Here's a neat infographic of the most read and purchased books in the world over the past 50 years. (Via interestos, my sister's blog.)

07 May 2012

From STONE ARABIA.

Unbookening: Three Confessions Edition

1. Someone was nice enough to relay me a copy of the 50 SHADES trilogy over a week ago and I haven't even cracked it, because I needed to get stuff done. The stuff has not been getting done, so there it sits -- quietly judging me. 
2. On Wednesday I was talking about Nabokov (IRL, not just in this post) and when asked whether I had read PNIN I said "Yeah, but it was a million years ago." I didn't mean that to come out so toolbaggish. I was only hoping the person wouldn't quiz me on the details as she was attempting to do.
3. This post is late because I still wanted to make good on my promise of showing my cleaned-up book shelf, but can't find my camera battery charger. (I have a Sony Cybershot and the battery seems to drain in a heartbeat. Get it together, Sony.) iSight just wouldn't capture the majesty of my work.

So I may be disorganized, pretentious and not have my priorities straight, but let's look on the bright side:

Bought 3 books (no Kindle deals!)
Received 5 for review
Checked 6 out of the library
14 in

Donated 12 
Returned 6 to the library
Returned 2 borrowed
20 out 

Here's hoping I still have a few years before they invent the perfect human.

06 May 2012

You've Been Warned: You can't say that to the Avengers!

It was such a roaring success last time (snort) that the NSFW Sunday post returns for an encore.

Like most of the country, I went to see "The Avengers" this weekend. I will endeavor not to spoil it for those of you who haven't yet. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting based on the early reviews, and I hope everyone who says that the writing in summer blockbusters doesn't matter will change their minds. (Hey, those punchy scene-ending lines can actually be clever!)

But this is not a review of the movie; this is an inquiry into language. The main villain in "The Avengers" is Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston), Thor's brother who wants to run the world. All the gods in the Thor-niverse (sorry) speak in British Empire accents for some reason, possibly because the "Thor" prequel was directed by Kenneth Branagh and most of the actors are British or Empire (Chris Hemsworth is Australian, for example). This context is important, I feel, for the scene in "The Avengers" in which Loki is criticizing the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, not British) and calls her a quim. Quim is a British slang term for vagina. (Urban Dictionary says it's Welsh in origin, which is the most academic usage of UD ever.)

Not that I object to it on moral grounds but I was surprised that they let that slide, even in a PG-13 movie. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the approximate American equivalent of that word would not be used in the same way, in the same situation. ("Bridesmaids" used it, but with a big pause at the end as if to say, Did she just really...) But if people don't recognize it (and my audience didn't react strongly either way), then it's... fine? This could set an interesting precedent for blockbusters trying to do an end-run around the MPAA, a cousin to "Battlestar Galactica"'s stand-in usage of "fracking." Then again, maybe it isn't that serious or much-used a word these days in its country of origin.

Any Brits or Empire want to speak to the use of "quim" in your neighborhood? (...That came out wrong.) Or do you just want to talk about Tom Hiddleston's hair, which is ridiculous?

04 May 2012

"When Obama first moved to New York in 1981 as a junior at Columbia, he lived in an apartment on West 109th Street. Since the heat didn’t work, the apartment was freezing and Obama and his roommate were sleeping in sleeping bags to stay warm. To stay warm, they eventually resorted to camping out at Columbia’s Butler Library, which was open all night." --Ben Jacobs in the Huffington Post excerpting from the forthcoming David Maraniss biography of the President. But good luck getting cheap breakfast at Tom's any more. Also, he read INVISIBLE MAN a lot. And did the crossword over coffee Sundays, as you do.

03 May 2012


Dear Elif Batuman, please be my best friend. Follow her on Twitter here.

Kindle Sale books of the month

I recommend: Jerome Groopman, HOW DOCTORS THINK; Molly Jane Quinn and Jenna Talbott, IT'S LONELY IN THE MODERN WORLD (the Unhappy Hipsters book);
I'm (maybe) buying: Barbara Holland, GENTLEMEN'S BLOOD: A HISTORY OF DUELING FROM SWORDS AT DAWN TO PISTOLS AT DUSK.

02 May 2012

Nabokov: Teen or tin?

This morning I stumped Twitter with Is PNIN pronounced to rhyme with teen or tin? This afternoon I Googled it myself. Hit it, Internets:
  • From the original New York Times review, "Pnin (pronounced P'neen) is an √©migr√© of the old Russian school." Can't go into that cocktail party unprepared.
  • And, from a transcript of an interview with the man himself: "The "p" is sounded, that's all. But since the "p" is mute in English words starting w-ith "pn", one is prone to insert a supporting "uh" sound-- "Puh-- nin"-- which is wrong. To get the "pn" right, try the combination "Up North", or still better "Up, Nina!", leaving out the initial "u". Pnorth, Pnina, Pmn. Can you do that?"
Probably teen then! I was about to call someone out for rhyming it with teen, because I thought she was just being pretentious, and now I don't have to. Also, I should re-read this book because I didn't find it that funny when I read it, just convoluted.

I also turned up this list of five books about college professors (PNIN being one) that some of you might enjoy.

Filmbook: Spring-Summer 2012, Read It Before You See It

This seemed like a great idea before I actually started writing it. I feel freshly motivated to... read a lot this summer and not go to the movies.

May 18: "What To Expect When You're Expecting" That's right, they adapted a self-help book (which I hear isn't bad? For those in need I mean) for one of those mega-cast comedies. It's too bad a lot of people I normally want to see onscreen got dragged into this mess (Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, Rodrigo Santoro, Wendi McLendon-Covey from "Bridesmaids")... I was in denial that this was a real movie even up to the point that the posters were going up.

June 1: "Snow White and the Huntsman." If you're thinking: "Didn't we just have a big-screen re-adaptation of the fairy tale of Snow White?" Yes, we did, with Julia Roberts, and it didn't do so well. But this is the Kristen Stewart one. That's necessary. Charlize Theron costars as the evil queen, Chris "Thor" Hemsworth as the Huntsman.

June 8: "Bel-Ami." All my Guy de Maupassant fans in the house, put your hands in the air! And then hurridly put them down in case someone sees you expressing a little enthusiasm for something Robert Pattinson is involved in. I'll give this a shot; period dramas are appropriate for certain hot summer afternoons.

June 15: "The Woman in the Fifth." Before I became temporarily obsessed with THE MOMENT, Douglas Kennedy published a Paris-set murder mystery I heard good things about called THE WOMAN IN THE FIFTH. Ethan Hawke is the detective; Kristen Scott Thomas (MVP) is the suspect. Yeah, all right.

June 22: "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." It delights me to no end that something this oddball (by Seth Grahame-Smith, responsible for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) is actually making it to theatres, with no stars, and no buzz. I'm there opening night.

July 6: "Savages." I didn't enjoy the Don Winslow book this Oliver Stone thriller is based on about "good" drug dealers (white kids with biology experience) versus "bad" drug dealers (Mexican, violent), although I hear it's one of his weaker novels. But something inside me wants to give this movie a chance... maybe it's Benicio Del Toro as one of the baddies.

July 13: "Trishna." This isn't a straight adaptation of TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES, but by re-setting the book in contemporary India, Michael Winterbottom may bring people in to what will undoubtedly be a very depressing experience. Also, Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire" fame as Trishna!

August 31: "Lawless" O come all ye Western fans, ye sore of brains from having to endure the 18th Bourne movie and any number of reboots: Here's Matt Bondurant's novel, THE WETTEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, about bootleggers during Prohibition. Add Nick Cave as a screenwriter. Sprinkle in some other supporting younger actors, a little Jessica Chastain here, some Shia LaBeouf. Top with Guy Pearce vs Tom Hardy and bake for 3 hours. It's only too bad that the finished movie goes to Cannes in a few days, but the rest of the adults have to wait.

01 May 2012

Word of the week

"[Organization withheld] needs to act tough in case you are a scofflaw (I have always wanted to use that word)."
-my father