27 February 2013

26 February 2013

A part of me cannot comprehend that there is an entire book to be written on this topic, even a 125-page e-book. And another part of me says "Yes, but if you don't buy it, what horrible sin might you already be committing that no one will ever tell you?"

Truly, there is a dreadful power that comes of marketing to the customer in need rather than in want! Just ask college bookstores. 

Authors represented in the "Interests" and "About" sections of my high school and college blog, which I finally locked this week

  • William Shakespeare
  • Theodore Roethke
  • W.H. Auden
  • Aldous Huxley
  • Dorothy Parker 
  • Douglas Coupland 
  • Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Mark Salzman 
  • Alexander Pushkin
  • Leo Tolstoy 
  • Robert Benchley
  • T.S. Eliot 
  • Natalie Goldberg
  • Michael Chabon
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Philip Larkin 

25 February 2013

Literary Oscar Power List

5. None of this man's work was nominated this year, but a moment of relief for Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly contributor and author of the terrific PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION. Harris had to sit out of Oscar talk this season while his husband Tony Kushner made the rounds as the screenwriter of "Lincoln," which is obviously very great for both of them, but Harris' analysis was sorely missed. Hey Mark, can you start handicapping Oscars '14 today?
4. (tie) Actual Oscar winners Chris Terrio and Quentin Tarantino, for best adapted and original screenplay respectively. I think Tarantino should actually host next year because the results would not be boring, but the result would probably lead to even more complaints than this year's foray. (At least he would never resort to the intentional bomb.)
3. Tony Mendez, who somehow lived with the story of "Argo" all these years and can now step into the sun.
2. This lady:
Cheers to the "Lincoln" team for bringing Doris Kearns Goodwin along. And what a lovely gown!

1. Ray Bradbury. I know it's not cool to acknowledge individuals within the In Memoriam segment (even though we all know it happens), but I gave a little whoop to see him in that segment for being a much-adapted writer, including providing the premise for the 100th episode of "The Twilight Zone."

23 February 2013

"The are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." --Thomas Paine, from "The Crisis"

22 February 2013

NYC: You've been summoned

For people who love writing about writing, there's a great reading on Saturday at Book Court in Brooklyn for the launch of a book about writers. See you there?


Well, I read it, I might as well review it.

MAKE THE RIGHT CAREER MOVE is a career strategy book starting with a holistic, open-ended approach to job hunting and moving into the more nuts-and-bolts details like résumé writing and interview preparation. Almost every job hunting book out there warns you against spraying the world with applications; this one's reasoning for that is that you want to target the jobs you really want, saving you time and awkwardness. (For that reason I would possibly not recommend this book to your friends who have been out of work for a while. They would benefit from it but it's difficult to get into that "perfect job" mindset in some circumstances.)

Canter's method for finding that right job consists of filling out some worksheets to brainstorm what you actually like to do (in work and outside) and breaking down the obstacles you feel are there when you resist looking for jobs. (To take an example nothing like my life, a person who believes she's too old to be a CEO will avoid pursuing opportunities at that grade, believing that she is best suited to make lateral moves. That helps her target hers search but leads to professional disappointment.) I've made this sound very flaky, but the examples were concrete enough that I actually wanted to do them rather than just rolling my eyes. After you complete that pre-work, you will go into your search more confidently and find what you want much more easily.

My dad recommended this book to me based on his own experience switching careers 3 years ago. He and I have little in common professionally but we probably sit at opposite ends of the spectrum from where this book's target audience is. Most of the examples described midcareer professionals (15-20 years), which didn't exactly apply to my situation (and was closer to his, but not quite). On the other hand most of them were still fairly analogous to what I'm facing, with the exception of the material about law firms. It's a weird world in there! That said, recent college graduates and those with a very linear career path might be frustrated with its more freewheeling approach;

Since I was borrowing it I took copious notes on MAKE THE RIGHT CAREER MOVE and I'm working through its worksheets as I search for jobs. I didn't, as Canter recommends, stop my search until I had completed all of it, but working in parallel is working out for me. (Shameless plug: want to be connections on Linkedin? I promise not to spam you.) Because I read this book on the Kindle, I didn't have a good view of the cover design featuring a woman plummeting to earth. I consider this in poor taste and having little to do with either the content of the book or the state of mind evoked by being in such a position (perhaps a person hiding under a bed clutching an application for unemployment would be more appropriate, or a bedraggled young professional buying a one-way ticket to Argentina). There's some free consulting for you guys at Wiley.

21 February 2013

Call me Wingdings

The Library of Congress has accepted an emoji version of MOBY DICK for its collection, the first of its kind we think. EMOJI DICK -- yup -- is composed entirely of the tiny figures standard to Apple products. This project was funded through Kickstarter and translator (?) Fred Benenson used the piecework of Amazon's Mechanical Turk to... hey wait, he didn't even translate the whole thing into emoji himself? Come on.

I know I'm old because just the quoted string of text makes my head hurt. (Also, when you view them on a non-Apple product emoji are just a bunch of boxes with "GIF" and numbers in them. Pro tip for everyone I know who tweets in emojis, I don't understand what you're on about.)

19 February 2013

Bless these crumbs

A bookstore in Chelsea is hosting a SWANN'S WAY readathon tonight (and for the next 24 hours). Now I have seen everything!

Tournament of Books '13: HHhH

In an alternate history, Nazi commandant Reinhard Heydrich would have stood trial at Nurenberg along with Goring, Hess, von Ribbentrop and all their friends. Hey, since he was one of Hitler's favorites because of his work domesticating the protectorate of Czechoslovakia, directing the SS to give them practically unrestricted powers and organizing the famous 1936 Olympics, he might even have been in the bunker with him and never have had to face trial.

But all of that never happened because Heydrich, the "Blond Beast," was assassinated in 1942 in Prague by a conspiracy backed by the Czech government in exile.

These types of historical switchbacks boggle the mind of the unnamed narrator of HHhH, who is researching an account of the two parachutists, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, who were charged with killing Heydrich. The author wants to write a nonfiction account but seems baffled by how to do it when so much must either be left out or invented. His accounts are riddled with his doubts about how much license to take to fill in the gaps left by his research; in some instances he composes dialogue or entire scenes between some of the players in this saga, including the Czechs who sheltered Gabčík and Kubiš on their way to their destinies, and then writes "I think I should take that out." Because we don't know how the two assassins met, he ponders reconstructing it: "How and when did they meet? In Poland? In France? During the journey between the two? Or later, in England? That's what I would love to know. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to 'visualize' (that is, invent!) this meeting or not. If I do, it will be the clinching proof that fiction does not respect anything."

There are a number of references to other accounts of the Heydrich assassination as well as some knocks at Jonathan Littell's THE KINDLY ONES, a famous recent World War II-era book I sadly have not read, but of which this author holds a very low opinion. Even the title is a coded reference to what the SS (supposedly?) used to say about Heydrich, "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" -- "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich," which definitely amplifies the space left by his death (although we do not verge that far into alternate history here). Not much is revealed about our narrator, aside from the fact that he was born in Paris but considers Prague his true home, but he clearly feels caught in the gap between the freedom to fictionalize and the duty, or burden, of being true to this story no matter how fragmented the resulting account.

I thought this book was terrific and, when I was reading it, I was completely sucked in. Between sessions I found it difficult to re-enter the story because its choppy mini-chapters interrupted the flow -- purposefully, and I think with good cause. (Also, my life is insanity right now so it's possible I did not have my usual laser focus of attention to devote to reading this book. My inbox is fuller than Hilary Mantel's hatemail filter right now. [Don't forget, only the tabloids are allowed to say anything negative about Princess Catherine! If anyone else does it, it's treason!]) I love a good postmodern game, and beyond that I was really fascinated by the inner workings of the Nazi party and the way Heydrich schemed into view after the inauspicious start of being fired from the Navy. (There were ladies involved.)

I was reminded in reading it of some of the controversies of this year's Best Picture Oscar race, in which a number of films have run into trouble for playing fast and loose with the facts. "Zero Dark Thirty" has been accused of this, its fact-checking made doubly difficult by the amount of classified information at play. Both "Lincoln" and "Argo" altered climactic scenes in the service of, well, Hollywood or something (without spoilers, one makes a few men look worse than they were, the other makes one man look better). Maybe it's true as Binet's narrator says that fiction does not respect any of the real-life players in these amazing true stories, and it's not right to excuse people for telling tales. But it's something we all do, and know that we do, and may not be able to escape. I don't know whether this narrator even did Heydrich justice in the end; perhaps I'll have to do some more reading.

18 February 2013

Hey all -- I am doing some shuffling and won't get to writing here today until later. However, I'm reviving my old Tumblr account for the new year, so won't you amble over and read about Alan Hollinghurst, "Downton Abbey"'s Matthew Crawley and me? (No spoilers in that post, I solemnly swear.)

14 February 2013

12 February 2013

If I told you I had a dream about a "Bunnicula" musical written by campmaster Charles Busch, you would never believe me.
Good thing reality is still stranger than fiction!

11 February 2013

Lighter than a memory, anyway

I love this even though it is slightly ruined by knowing how DFW treated some of the women in his life (in short: terribly) and some of his comments in re. his fans on book tour (in short: piggish). Biographies ruin everything.

Via Peter W. Knox

08 February 2013

Bookish: It's a start-ish.

Due to a series of unfortunate events I barely blinked when Bookish launched this week. The site's three publisher parents (Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster) hope that it will become your new go-to for reviews and recommendations. At some point the site will also have its own app where you can buy e-books (as I'm checking on Friday afternoon, not yet though).

Here are the main challenges Bookish faces as I see it:
  • As a social-media space for book lovers, it is already running behind Goodreads and LibraryThing as gathering places for the literary like-minded. (Oh, remember Shelfari? Good times.)
  • Unlike the aforementioned three sites, you can't "friend" anyone on it, so its social dimensions are limited.
  • Because it's run by 3 publishers, one might suspect -- without any evidence in this case -- that negative reviews will be somehow demoted and positive reviews will be raised...
  • ...That is, where there are any reviews to begin with, and there aren't many on the site right now.
The idea that Bookish will tread the line between organic and paid content doesn't bother me as much (though you have to dig for its parentage) as the lack of interaction, especially that which popped out at me as I tested the recommendation engine. 251,000 titles and counting? Sign me up! I input the first book that popped into my head -- THE BELL JAR (probably because of that atrocious cover design that has been all over the blogosphere) -- and this is what came out:

I would not call this an optimal result. In tone and subject the closest of these is PROZAC NATION, but to read the latter after the former would be to see how much it imitates. As to the suggestion of VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE, dark joke or accident?

Goodreads' first four results for THE BELL JAR in its "Readers also enjoyed similar books" section are Donald Kagan's THE ARCHIDAMIAN WAR, the complete poems of Anne Sexton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's THE YELLOW WALLPAPER and THE PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER. I'd give that a 75% hit rate.

Let's try another book I read more recently and liked a lot, Jami Attenberg's THE MIDDLESTEINS:

Just two suggestions? The easy get would have been FREEDOM since Franzen blurbed the book (you can kind of see it if you get really close to your screen). I've never heard of LOSING BATTLES and that looks like it has a lot of overlap, but what do the good people of suburban Illinois have to say to Cormac McCarthy?

I haven't signed in to Bookish yet; I want to see if they offer more features I would like and I struggle to keep up with Goodreads already. Have you tried it? Is it worth diving into?

07 February 2013


Let's hope it was just a failure in reading comprehension that led the publishers of a new edition of ANNE OF GREEN GABLES to sign off on a cover featuring a blonde teenager. In Canada, no less. Of course they knew Anne Shirley was a redhead, right?!

Currently reading: How the hay are you supposed to pronounce this? Right now I'm going with "Aitch aitch aitch aitch." This is the worst thing to happen since the popularity of that indie rock band "!!!" I'm still arguing about that one.

As to its real title, this Spanish-language cover would provide a hint if I could read a few particular words of German:

06 February 2013

I got some bad news yesterday so my dad loaned me some Kindle books he thought would help, with pithy comments attached to each. This was a bit of parenting I sorely needed at the time.

05 February 2013

It's a shame about Mary

A recent study in Pediatrics finds Mary Ingalls of the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE series likely did not lose her sight due to scarlet fever, as chronicled in BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE, but rather had a viral brain infection. Next question: Was medicine just not far enough along to complete a differential diagnosis at the time, or did Wilder use scarlet fever as "a literary device," as claims a LITTLE HOUSE scholar?

January Unbookening: The opposite of diet

Checked 12 books out from the library
Received 7 to review
Bought 1 (FLIGHT BEHAVIOR, for book club, from my local community bookstore)
20 in

Gave away 2
Donated 3
Returned 7 to the library
12 out

Well, once I cleaned out my shelves in December, there just wasn't much left to give away! But I was running empty on review books and have been stockpiling library books for book clubs and Tournament posts of the future, so I don't feel that I went overboard. (Clearly I did, but I don't feel like it.) 

I'd say February is going better but I just splurged on another book club book at McNally Jackson with an old Google Offer, so maybe I don't want to change.

04 February 2013

One-Star Revue: Kurt Vonnegut, THE SIRENS OF TITAN

In my experience most people tend to go to extremes on Vonnegut: Either they love him and everything he wrote, or they just don't care for him at all, which is why I was surprised that Amazon had so many glowing reviews of THE SIRENS OF TITAN and so few negative ones. Does no one share the middle ground with me?

I loved SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE, liked BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS and found THE SIRENS OF TITAN challenging, in some ways timeless, but overly long and frustrating. The ending of this book is one of the most depressing endings in literature (possible future list fodder?); when it was over I just wanted to lie down for a little bit and avoid all my loved ones, because what is the point of anything? I respected it a little more in the end for being able to elicit such a strong reaction from me, but I can't endorse it for the same reason. Some of the one-star reviews reflected the existential crisis I had.

Anyway, there wasn't a lot to choose from but so it goes:
  • "You will laugh occasionally. However, your hit ratio will be worse than your average 'Saturday Night Live.'" Recent or early?
  • "Vonnegut has a very vivid imagination. This work is way too science fiction! It is so far out there, that it is almost impossible to read." Always start with a compliment.
  • "This book put me off this great author for a while."
  • "I hated every page of it and read it only as I was looking for something I never found. I do not recommend buying it ever for any price. I'll send you mine free."
  • "Imagine if you will that the charmingly witty, earthy characters from Irving's A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY were overrun by a pack of ugly rabid dogs in the first chapter, and then you had to listen to *why* rabid dogs were rabid dogs, and *why* it's bad to be bitten, ad nauseum. And then watch the characters run around independently, biting other random characters..." Must we bring John Irving into this?
  • "It's much easier and less scary to just fawn all over Kurt and pretend to be a smart person who understands a special insight that just isn't there." Ah yes, the old emperor-has-no-clothes argument.

My kingdom for a hashtag

It's not every day Richard III trends on Twitter, and this time it's not for his controversial performance at the Super Bowl: Researchers in Leicester, England announced that a skeleton found under a parking lot last fall can be positively identified as his. Good thing he doesn't seem like the type to have a vengeful ghost or anything...

01 February 2013

"I'm not a big fan of the TWILIGHT series. I can't get past the premise, which is that a group of wealthy, sophisticated, educated, highly intelligent, centuries-old vampires, who can do pretty much whatever they want, have chosen to be . . . high school students. I simply cannot picture such beings sitting in a classroom listening to a geometry teacher drone on about the cosine. I have more respect for vampires than that."
--Dave Barry. Why has no one ever pointed this out? Looking back, it seems obvious!

Originally known as "The Mistake"

Last night I went to a reading to celebrate the newest issue of Granta, "Betrayal." Associate Editor Patrick Ryan hosted the event, a slight disappointment to those of us in the John Freeman Fan Club, although Ryan did a great job in his stead. Among his revelations about the inner workings of the magazine: the cover for this issues is a photograph of blood and milk swirled, which wasn't what I would have guessed. And yes, the theme of this issue started off as "The Mistake."

Ryan kicked off by bringing Karen Russell to the front of the room, noting that Granta had named her a promising young novelist before her debut had been published and that "we're pretty proud of foreseeing her career." (By the way, is it ever going to be okay to refer to authors by their major works in the style of a Mafia nickname, like this: Karen "SWAMPLANDIA" Russell? Let me know.) She read a bit from a story set in "shitty drab Wisconsin" (check yourself) about an Iraq war veteran with an incredible tattoo. Last time I saw Russell read, she was capturing the voice of a child protagonist and her voice was very high and thin and wispy. I had taken this to be her normal reading voice, but she lowered her timbre for the veteran and the other, 19-year-old protagonist of her story.

Trumpted as a "debut author" for this issue was Lauren Wilkinson, the second MD/MFA I have heard of (the first being Chris Adrian of the McSweeney's crew). Wilkinson is tall and candidly admitted to being so nervous she wrote out all her opening remarks, but she didn't seem nervous at all. She spoke a little about the former president of Burkina Faso, who did not come up at all in the excerpt of her story "Safety Catch" but has now made me very curious to learn about. Something clever all these readers did was to read openings or excerpts only from their stories, in order to prompt us to buy the issue in question. (I fully plan on it tonight; I didn't want to brave the crush last night.)

Also reading were Colin Robinson of OR Books, who brought the opening of an essay on playing paddleball with his brother at the 14th street YMCA, and Ben Marcus who said his story was intended to evoke "the feeling of being very scared."

The authors read to a packed crowd in the McNally Jackson basement; I was so close to the woman behind me I could feel when she was clapping. Just like every time I go to these things I get the feeling there are authors in the crowd I should recognize, but don't. I scan faces to imagine them on flyleaves; nothing. When I moved here I imagined by now I'd know everyone at parties like this, down to the woman with the dark bob serving wine in the corner. There's still a little time, I guess.