29 March 2013

GIF Reaction Friday: Buzz Bissinger's Closet Edition

While not picking fights on Twitter, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS author Bissinger was buying over $500,000 of designer clothing, he revealed in a GQ story this week.

 Buzz! I hope you are getting the help you need. Not just for the shopping.

27 March 2013

Amanda Knox: On second thought, let's not go to Italy

Who else just got more interested in Amanda Knox's forthcoming memoir WAITING TO BE HEARD with this week's news that she will be re-tried for murder in Italy? The Hollywood Reporter has an interview with Bob Barnett, who represented Knox in negotiating her memoir deal (and also represents Sarah Palin, yeesh). Naturally, he promises a bunch of bombshells in the as yet embargoed memoir.

The American media has framed this case as every study-abroad student's worst nightmare (quite effectively for me). If you are similarly obsessed, I recommend Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi's true-crime book THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE, about an unsolved string of murders in Tuscany. Spezi was a local journalist covering the case, and at one point prosecutor Giuliano Mignini actually arrested and attempted to try him on suspicion of being an accomplice to the murders. Mignini is also the prosecutor in the Amanda Knox case and is believed to be the one who introduced the idea that Knox and her Italian boyfriend (Raffaele Sollecito) killed British student Meredith Kercher for failing to participate in some kind of orgy-themed ritual. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Knox's home paper, has more on THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE and the Knox case.

26 March 2013

What Benjamin Anastas and Manti Te'o have in common

The teetering premise of Giles Harvey’s essay in last week’s New Yorker, ”Cry Me A River”, is that the story of authors failing is a new and engaging micro-genre of memoir. Harvey anchors his story on the case of Benjamin Anastas, whose memoir TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE finds him broke, out of publishing contracts and in debt to his girlfriend to make rent, where once he believed writing the Great American Novel would set him up for life. Anastas’ memoir at this point is already six months old, and Harvey produces no other current examples, but this does not delay him in scooping up a number of examples such as David Goodwillie’s SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME and Toby Young’s unkillable HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE to prop up his argument.

Harvey is incorrect about the tide, but he scratches at an essential though nasty notion about American entertainment: We like to see people fail, not by degrees, but spectacularly, and no more so than when their failure is in the context of some great dream, whether it’s of Becoming A Famous Novelist or having a chaste, tragic cross-country love affair. The strange cases of Benjamin Anastas and Manti Te’o may resemble each other very little, but their essential differences are only of scale.

I liked Anastas’ memoir, but Harvey’s insistence on casting him as a naïf is a little much given that the substance of TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE is an extended acceptance of responsibility, not a discharging of same. Anastas himself freely cops to a string of poor financial and personal choices on his way down from his epic book deal, from quitting his job on the publication of his second book, to going forward with a marriage despite his doubts (and having recently cheated on his girlfriend). But all of these tend to the same root, being the author’s conviction that he was going to become a success. One of its most heartbreaking vignettes is the scene of Anastas scribbling this very book in his second bedroom (and his son’s bedroom when he has custody), feeling guilty and hiding his notes because he feels he should be writing something to pay the bills.

While Anastas hid the shape of his latest project from his girlfriend, a young Hawaiian linebacker found that his girlfriend was hiding a secret from him. The appeal of the Manti Te’o case – in which it was revealed that the promising Notre Dame football player had been dating a person who did not exist – transcended the bounds of the typical audience for college football and the sports audience in general. (It was also one of the best pieces of investigative journalism of the year, and the reporters who uncovered it for the website Deadspin have not received enough credit.) We don’t have a memoir from Te’o yet -- yet -- but the essentials of the story hinged on whether he might have suspected that the sweet, good-looking woman who succumbed first to a car accident and then to leukemia, urging him to pray for her and play a great game rather than rush to her bedside, was too good to be true. Te’o may yet have a career in professional football in front of him, but he lost commodities that years of starting at linebacker won’t be able to buy back for him, like credibility and the association of his name with a bizarre Internet crime of sorts. Weighing the evidence with a few months of hindsight, it seems more likely that Te’o was as surprised as anyone (the phenomenon known as “catfishing,” a reminder that the Internet was once sexy and dangerous) that his one true love was a hoax. With his story, as with Anastas’, there are forks in the road where we might have taken a different path – because we know how they both ended, of course. But would we really have called our Internet girlfriend’s bluff the last time she was conveniently unavailable? Would we have phoned the hospital and asked for the records?

Taking big risks is terrifying and failure is always at hand. Part of the appeal of these stories is that we wouldn’t have made the same decisions of these two foolish men, but we want to know that we were justified in picking the safer course. We wish that we wouldn’t have been so foolish, but we also want to be reassured that we did the right thing. Anastas is poised on the edge of failure, but before that he was a critical darling. And Manti Te’o had a sexy girlfriend who his teammates surely envied for the paucity of demands she placed on him – not that any of them will admit it now. But someone has to look foolish in pursuit of the dream. Both cases tap into essential American fears – going broke, being alone, being the victim – and legitimate those fears.

Tales of literary failure, or more broadly, failure in general, will continue to propagate a culture that so ardently needs to believe in foolish dreams. The missing link in Harvey’s argument is that such dreams are successful for their bearers. Perhaps we all profit from getting in touch with our fears, but where is the Te’o draft notice or the Anastas first-look film deal? The best example of “failing up” Harvey can come up with is F. Scott Fitzgerald whose character Jay Gatsby could be considered a fictional analogue, and who would not be an example they would follow.

25 March 2013

One-Star Revue: Philip Roth Birthday Edition

All hail the bard of Newark! Er, maybe not, as some of these reviews would evince. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT isn't my favorite Roth (that honor goes to THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, proving that Roth was ahead of his time in self-referential titling) but it appears that some, dare I say haters, struggle to separate the creation from the man. Can't help thinking that Mr. Roth himself would have a chuckle going over these and perhaps reconsider his decision last year to retire. I love it when a plan comes together:
  • "The character Alex Portnoy was not believable enough to be funny."
  • "At first I thought the problem was that the book was dated, but then I remembered Nabokov and Vonnegut and Salinger and thought, wow, this writing is just simply not that great."
  • "This garbage is going directly to my bird's cage." If you say this you had better produce the bird. Just saying.
  • "For me who also hates Woody Allen films this is toilet humour at its worst."
  • "Everything about the description of this book made me think I would love it." This isn't a terrific review on its own but the sense of entitlement is amazing. How dare you not make me love you, book?! This comment is the literary equivalent of a bro complaining about being friendzoned.
  • "It appeared that Roth dictated this book and had his secretary type it up."
  • "Philip Roth has to be the greatest self-loathing Jewish man alive, or at least one lucky enough to make a career out of it." 

22 March 2013

GIF Reaction Friday: THE NATURAL

ESPN is reporting that Ruth Ann Steinhagen, who took baseball fandom to a new level, passed away last weekend. Steinhagen was in love with first baseman Eddie Waitkus until he was traded to the Phillies; the next time he came to town to play at Wrigley, in 1949 she arranged to meet him in a hotel room and shot him (he survived).

This was my face upon finding out THE NATURAL, which I read a few years ago, was based on a true story:

21 March 2013

Jay Leno, jobless?

In 2010 I reviewed THE WAR FOR LATE NIGHT, New York Times reporter Bill Carter's account of the Leno vs. Conan dust-up of the early '00s. The book is extremely unflattering toward Jay Leno, even more so than the coverage of the actual incident had been. Carter may have struck gold again with his scoop today that NBC is trying to get Jay to walk and install Jimmy Fallon in his chair.

I don't watch either man's show regularly, so my primary concern is that the Roots will still be gainfully employed, but -- oh look, Carter suggests they are one reason a Fallon "Tonight Show" would move back to New York City. I assume this will all be covered in Carter's theoretical third book in his late-night TV series (his first, LATE SHIFT, was published in 1994).

20 March 2013

Shorter WIRED on book publishing

I thought Evan Hughes' article was terrific and worth a read if you have more than a few moments, but in summation:

1. Of the uncountable masses self-publishing their work, a few have hit it spectacularly big.
2. Yet book publishing overall operates on very thin margins and doesn't have a great track record at picking success. (I have heard of THE GLASS BOOKS OF THE DREAM EATERS, but I am In The System and thus cannot be trusted.)
3. As with any other kind of marketing, sometimes the money spent does not yield the desired result.
4. When these things don't yield results, publishing tends toward an Under Siege mentality because every little setback is interpreted as The End Of Literacy As We Know It.
5. Ebooks can deflect some of #2 and #4 but not #3.
6. For example, Amazon has tried to do it better with their Kindle might, yet with all their digital acumen they also found it hard to generate success.
7. (Tim Ferriss will bite any hand that feeds him, guaranteed.)
8. So we know that #1 is correct... ish... shoot... anyone?  Bueller? Bueller?

19 March 2013

Filmbook-to-be: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS may have a Hazel Grace

"Woodley’s involvement had been rumored since mid-February when tweets by Green, a major social networker, connected both Woodley and Josh Boone, the film’s director."
--from an article about Shailene Woodley of "The Descendants" stepping into the movie adaptation of John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Green vlogs and tweets, and even had some of his questions answered by the President in a Google+ hangout last month.

Even actresses with agents need social media to help them get jobs! (Potentially.) Now, Aaron Tveit as Augustus Waters, yes or no?

Check your attics for the Gardner Heist paintings

A long, long time ago I reviewed a book called THE GARDNER HEIST about a famous unsolved art theft at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Yesterday, police announced that they have identified the thieves and are hoping the Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas and other priceless works can be compelled to be returned:
"The F.B.I. was starting a publicity campaign to focus attention on the paintings in the hopes of garnering leads from the public and possibly from acquaintances of the thieves, anyone who may have glimpsed one of the paintings over a mantel, say, or in an attic. In addition to the paintings, the stolen cache included a Chinese bronze beaker and a finial from the top of a pole support for a Napoleonic silk flag."
Passive voice denotes skepticism there, but I'm excited that some of them may be recovered.

18 March 2013

"Not So Much"

That's the subtitle of an article on Publishers Weekly estimating the number of copies sold of an Amazon best-seller doing a lot of math to estimate around the figures Amazon won't release. Curious... And as a millennial I love that they picked a book on "The Legend Of Zelda" Nintendo game.

16 March 2013

"I also did the most rock star thing imaginable for a stay-at-home-dad/recipient-of-a-famous-cease-and-desist: I used the money to send my kid to daycare two days a week so I can have more time to write."

--Patrick Wensink reveals how much he made when his book BROKEN PIANO FOR PRESIDENT shot to #6 on the Amazon charts. Brave guy and I hope his transparency inspires others to do the same. (Also, he has a terrific website and has a collection of essays called EVERYTHING WAS GREAT UNTIL IT SUCKED.)

14 March 2013

Google Reader, we miss you already


From "Hitler finds out Google Reader is shutting down" -- full video below.

Feels like only yesterday I wrapped all my RSS feeds in bubble wrap after Bloglines, itself kind of a miracle product for high-volume blog readers (ahem), shut down in 2010. To elaborate on ol' Adolf's point above, there is no way I could keep up with the blogs I want to read by following their Twitter or Facebook feeds. Facebook's algorithm, constantly shifting, often causes me to miss updates from blogs (and people) I care about, and the Twitter firehose could occupy my whole day chasing links. But to be honest, there are other RSS readers out there; it's not The End, just a change I don't want to make.

Well, anyway, for those of you who still read this through Google Reader and don't bookmark things, you can read my blog through Goodreads if you are a member there. It doesn't always like my formatting, and sometimes it truncates posts for reasons I don't understand, but if you're already stopping by there that could consolidate your web visitation. Do you want to be emailed posts? I could set up a widget for that. (Is email also over? OH NOOOO)

But seriously, I would have paid for Google Reader, that's how often I used it. I wish I had been given that option. Can we get a Kickstarter going for this? Send up the white smoke if you're in! (Oh look, she did some topical jokes today.)


13 March 2013

Haul blog

  • Frank Langella, DROPPED NAMES
  • Joe Queenan, ONE FOR THE BOOKS (I think that's where this quotation comes from, hooray!)
  • William Zinsser, THE WRITER WHO STAYED
And as a birthday present to myself,
  • Sheryl Sandberg, LEAN IN 
which I hope to get to really soon so I can start opining on it from an informed place.

12 March 2013

A Novel Approach: The reading cure?

Pop Culture Pirate pointed me to a new service in which, for $125, a librarian will consult with you for 45 minutes and then provide you with a reading list addressing your problems. "At a crossroads? Get insight from great literature on life's big moments" -- and for an extra $250 they will even mail you one book a month from that reading list. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that I would stumble across this on my birthday in a year when I would be facing massive changes & uncertainty in my own life. Just one of those things that happens that can't possibly be related!

What I would love to see from this website is a list of testimonials from satisfied customers affirming that the choices made for them were marvelously helpful and significantly obscure, enough that they wouldn't come across those books otherwise. Since the fun is in the hunt to some extent for me, they have to be way-out-there, or if only out-there, books I need a nudge on in order to get going. To take an extreme example, I don't want to open it up and see that I have to read ANGELS AND DEMONS again. (If it says I have to go to Rome again though, I will start packing my bags yesterday. No wait, I will just wear what I have on and see you at the airport. Bye!)

The Unknown Citizen

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace:  when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

--W.H. Auden

11 March 2013

Good advice

Today's Google Doodle was a fitting tribute now that we more or less all carry HITCHHIKER'S GUIDES around with us.

08 March 2013

Tournament of Books '13: The UK takes it... judging by the covers

The Millions compares the book covers of several competitors in this year's tournament from US to UK designs. THE ROUND HOUSE aside, why are UK covers so impressive? (For jingoistic glee, however, note the Damian Lewis blurb on THE YELLOW BIRDS UK edition. "I'm not in the military, but I play one on TV...")

Let's all write dystopias and quit our jobs

Once a self-published serial writer on Amazon, Hugh Howey has engineered a rare print-only deal to bring his postapocalyptic drama WOOL to stores. About his early days, from the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Howey kept trying. He got a 30-hour-a-week job at a university bookstore that paid only $10 an hour but gave him some flexibility. He got up at two or three in the morning to write, and wrote through his lunch hour and after dinner. He designed his own cover art, enlisting his wife and sister to pose in photos. He would often jolt up in bed in the middle of the night to scribble down ideas.

"It was almost a compulsion for him," says Ms. Lyda. Ms. Lyda said she pleaded with him to leave his pen open on his nightstand, because the clicking noise of his pen kept waking her up.
"Wool" started as a short story that Mr. Howey dashed off in three weeks. He posted it on Amazon for 99 cents in July 2011. Within three months, the story had sold 1,000 copies. Mr. Howey was stunned.
"I told my wife, 'Baby, we're going to be able to pay a couple of bills off this short story,' " he said.
Readers begged for a sequel, and in November, Mr. Howey released another installment. He sold more than 3,000 copies that month. The next month, he released two more installments and sold nearly 10,000 copies total. In January, he released the final installment, for $2.99, and published all five as a single volume, for $5.99. Collectively, he sold 23,000 copies of all the editions that month. "Wool" shot up Amazon's science-fiction best-seller list. Mr. Howey quit his job.

Jonathan Karp of Simon & Schuster described it as an "unusual circumstance" to separate the print and e-book rights in the mid-six-figure deal, which is code for "Rats! How did he get all that leverage?!"

07 March 2013

It's a parody of all acknowledgement sections, but Noreen Malone's closer on her article about Sheryl Sandberg's LEAN IN is masterful:
This piece wouldn’t have been possible without the skillful editing of Chloe Schama or the helpful brainstorming of my colleagues Timothy Noah, Cameron Abadi, Marc Tracy, Judith Shulevitz, and Ben Crair. Thanks, too, to Sam Tanenhaus, Pamela Paul, Lorin Stein, and Alex Star for their thoughtful comments on the topic. Thanks to Chris Hughes and Frank Foer for hiring me, my mother for birthing me, Al Gore for inventing the Internet, and the Germans and the Romans for the building blocks of the English language. I only wish my severely under-cared-for jade plant could have survived to see its publication—thank you to it, as well, for the sacrifice in service of this larger project of journalism. And of course I could not fail to thank Martha Stewart, who I tweet at with some regularity and who continues to be my inspiration as a woman who doesn’t let rules, pursuant to the federal penal code or otherwise, get in the way of her tastefully cruel mien. Any errors herein are a copy editor’s or an intern’s, and anyone I have forgotten to mention, it is because I secretly hate them. Thanks to Michelle Obama for EVERYTHING!!!
I have LEAN IN preordered for professional business lady reasons, but am kind of impressed at Sandberg's ability to press people she knows into service.

But I would also like to thank Michelle Obama "for EVERYTHING!!!"


Only one can survive

and it was THE HUNGER GAMES, fittingly, that came out on top as the New York Public Library's most checked out book of 2012. Among adult titles Walter Isaacson's STEVE JOBS biography took the top spot, and the author-studded "Midnight in Paris" (clipped for one of the best YouTube videos ever) was the most checked out DVD. 

05 March 2013


Bernadette is an unhappy stay-at-home mom in Seattle whose husband is a big shot at Microsoft. Facing the prospect of a trip to Antarctica with which she had bribed her daughter, Bee, to get better grades, Bernadette tries to find a way out of it while getting involved in a major PTA skirmish and feeling trapped in rainy, foggy Washington. If only she could just... vanish...

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is formatted as a collection of documents related to Bernadette (emails, transcripts of phone calls, official school news) and compiled by her daughter Bee. I loved this epistolary mashup but am curious to see how it will be transferred in the forthcoming adaptation. With regard to the plot, this book is like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang": Realistic with dashes of whimsy until it drives into the ocean and enters an absurd world.

I say that with love, mostly. I tore through this book; I found it funny and playful with a really dark, juicy underside. The resolution satisfied me -- at first, but the further I got away from it I began to take it apart in my head. This surprised me, because despite the outward quirks of Bernadette, I don't think she's that much of an outlier, until the end until she makes a decision to [redacted for spoilers] which doesn't seem plausible. I didn't hate the ending, but am still tempted to write my own that conforms more to what I think Bernadette wanted.

(I know -- lately, I've apparently joined the Plausibility Police when I read fiction. What do I know about the decision she made?! Who made me a police officer? But if I can't accept that, that's still a problem.)

One of the early revelations about Bernadette is related to her old career, which she effectively left behind in Los Angeles when she moved and never reassumed. To me, this was an interesting take on what one might call the "mommy wars" or "opt-out" literature; part of Bernadette's frustration with the petty PTA is that she just seems bored and underutilized in her own life. Against her we can place the counterpart voice of a female admin who works with Elgin and sends her child to school with Bee, who at times seems almost like the villain of this piece, but is no happier in her own juggle of professional and familial responsibilities. It was this Bernadette I identified with, not the risk-taker of the final chapters.

04 March 2013

February Unbookening

This month I totally PR'd in library books returned unread (7!) and library fines racked up (I haven't even looked):

Checked out from library: 12
Bought: 2 (both career-related)
Received: 5
Borrowed: 3
Got to review: 2
24 in

Returned to library: 11
Donated: 7
Returned (personal): 4
22 out 

My heart wasn't much in it this month but I foresee another major purge coming soon.

01 March 2013

It's the new pig Latin

The pigeons appeared in the fall. They swarmed Twitter and Facebook. They had their own hashtag, "#geonpi," which was "pigeon" rendered in verlan, the French slang that splits a word in half and inverts the parts. "Pigeon" connoted a sucker or a chump.

This is but one of a thousand mind-boggling details in this New Yorker story about Gerard Depardieu versus French tax reform, but my fellow Americans, we need this speaking convention. Who's with me?!

ToB '13: My Picks

Despite starting earlier I had an even shabbier showing at finishing this year's Tournament of Books slate in time for "competition," starting on Monday. Yet we plunge madly forward into the uncertain future.

The bracket this year was so crazy and stylish I decided to input all my answers for "Will Win" and "Should Win," Oscar style. On the "Should Win" bracket I masked out all the titles I didn't get to read in time (hint, there are a lot), and half of THE ROUND HOUSE because I haven't finished it yet but I'm sucked in now.

Also, apparently spell check doesn't think Fobbit is a word. How rude.

Brackets found here designed by Liz Meyer, who I would definitely hire for something based on this if I had the capacity to do so.