31 May 2013

BEA 2013: How To Start A Libraryblr

Live from BookExpo America, the publishing trade show where Ann Romney and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar alike come to meet their reading publics. (No, but seriously, they were both here today.)

For many who were unfamiliar with Tumblr, the mobile-friendly blogging platform developed in 2007 recently went from “what?!” to “WHOA” after its big-money purchase by search-engine granddaddy Yahoo! Tumblr sponsored a panel at BEA full of librarians who use Tumblr – representing libraries in Chicago, New York and Connecticut. Molly McArdle of Library Journal moderated with a strong assist from Rachel Fershleiser, who works with libraries and bookstores for Tumblr’s strategic outreach team, and who encouraged anyone starting a library blog to expand their scope beyond Instagrams of pretty shelves, into all the areas of interest a library can cultivate.

Here are some tips from her and the rest of the panel for starting your library Tumblr (and by extension, really any institutional blog):

  • Use tags, including the librarian-community tag #tumblrarians, to include your posts in public search and discover new readers. (Apparently there was a very fierce debate over what the appropriate portmanteau was.)
  • Include some personal tidbits along with book- and library-related materials and special events, to give it a human face. Angela Montefinise, PR and marketing director of the New York Public Library, said the NYPL’s Tumblr humanizes its institution and makes it seem more accessible by, for example, posting cat-related items from their collections (the Internet loves cats) or a discovery of a 1930s photo of Harlem featuring a man who looked just like Jay-Z. Kate Tkacik of the Bank of Montreal library in Chicago even surveyed her followers to ask non-librarians why they read her blog, and found out that many of them, even if they didn’t work in the library field, just enjoyed her personal comments or were fascinated with the library profession in general.
  • Posts about events on Tumblr are often easier to create and update than main websites.  Prior to working at Tumblr Fershleiser started a blog on there for Housing Works Bookstore here in New York, which she describes as “the first bookstore on Tumblr.” Her posts attracted the attention of the Time Out New York writer who was responsible for updating their blog and events calendar, so a disproportionate number of their events made it into the magazine. It’s also a great way to attract patrons who are in Tumblr’s young, predominately female demographic. McArdle said that most of the followers of the Library Journal tumblr are between 20 and 35, busting the stereotype of the grandmotherly old librarian who doesn’t know how the computerbox works.
  • Finally, don’t be shy about starting a blog even though most of the population you serve doesn’t seem to read blogs or be aware of Tumblr. Fershleiser described a meeting she had with Sesame Workshop about their blog and online presence, where she was informed that their mission was to “Educate children and families wherever they might be,” even if “Sesame Street”’s audience isn’t ready to start their own blogs. (Yet.) 

30 May 2013

BEA 2013: How Jonathan Lethem Writes (And Wrote)

Live from BEA, the publishing trade show where naughty booksellers sneaking suitcases onto the tradeshow floor receive their slow but definitive comeuppance.

The last time I saw Chuck Klosterman at BEA he was interviewing Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, a man who – and I apologize for the language I’m about to use – had no fucks to give at that moment. Absolutely none. He had a book to promote and was in the middle of an arena tour, but my enduring memory of him is how widely he splayed his leather-clad legs in the chair onstage while Klosterman, despite showing a heroic level of patience, started to turn a bit pink and eventually shot steam out of the top of his head. And I don’t blame him at all. In an event billed as a “conversation,” one participant cannot give all the fucks alone. This concludes today’s R-rated advice on event planning.

Klosterman was much better matched this morning with novelist and critic Jonathan Lethem, whose ninth novel DISSIDENT GARDENS arrives this fall. (Klosterman also has a new book out this fall, called I WEAR THE BLACK HAT: GRAPPLING WITH VILLAINS REAL AND IMAGINED.) After exchanging some pleasantries about DISSIDENT GARDENS – “All art is helplessly political” is the soundbite you’re going to see around from that section, Klosterman really dug into him about his work habits , which was fascinating.

Normally a question like “So you hitchhiked to San Francisco and then 12 years later you published your first novel. What happened during that time?” would be too combative for this kind of format, but Lethem approached it without defensiveness. After dropping out of Bennington College, he worked in a bookstore in the Bay Area, a place he describes as “where people go to develop their lives in lifestyle terms, not career terms” (feel free to weigh in, Californians), and wrote a novel and many short stories during that time. He attributed his prolificness to having many models of authors he read who were amazingly prolific, like Philip K. Dick, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch and Patricia Highsmith.   

Most of all, Lethem said, he enjoys the process of being present with his writing and doing it rather than being prolific for its own sake. “I miss the days spent writing DISSIDENT GARDENS,” he said. “I’m eager to be in that situation again where I’m discovering a book as I write it. The way I do that matters to me and it feels good and important… Once I’m writing, I go into a flow state where the preparation melts into a semiconscious fascination and I’m responding to what the language is doing.” If anything here I was hoping that Klosterman would interject a little bit about his writing process, which I’m guessing is quite different – but that’s for another panel.  

Lethem wrote his first three novels by manual typewriter, not because it was the only option at the time but because it felt like a discipline, and “you commit to every sentence again” when retyping it out. (“My students’ drafts are nothing compared to the typewriter age,” he joked, adding that he challenges his students now to print out their stories, delete the entire file and force themselves to type it again.  

The most memorable moment during the audience Q&A was a woman who asked what Lethem thought of MFAs and whether she should get one. “I don’t have one,” Lethem said – in fact, he technically never finished his B.A. -- but he teaches in them, so he carefully picked around what he described as “such an individual decision.” I think it’s fair to say a lot of young writers (self included) don’t have the kind of discipline that Lethem describes himself having, the willingness to be perceived as a “grind” and shelve a novel and “30-40 short stories” before finally breaking through with GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, but clearly he is unwilling to write off the whole enterprise. Probably a wise choice. 

BEA 2013: Your book could be our movie

Live from BookExpo America, a major trade show for the book publishing industry.
Great news! I found my next job, an occupation I should have known existed all along but was never aware of till today when I attended a “Text to Screen” panel sponsored by the Sundance Institute. The job is: Literary scout for a film producer, reading galleys and excerpts and cultivating journalists and writers in order to find their next big project. I love movies and I can read quickly. This is perfect! Although, as I learned, the path to acquiring and executing those rights is anything but straightforward.

The panel featured producers Julie Goldman (“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”), Evan Hayes (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Senna”) and Mary Jane Skalski (“The Visitor,” “Win Win”) along with lawyer Victoria Cook, who is experienced at putting these types of rights deals together. All the producers said they frequently look to books and articles to find new projects; Hayes recently optioned Kevin Powers’ National Book Award finalist THE YELLOW BIRDS, while Goldman worked closely with Samantha Power to adapt her book CHASING THE FLAME, a biography of a Brazilian diplomat, into the movie “Sergio.” In both cases scouts and prior connections helped them identify they were good properties and they went after them. (A minor takeaway from this panel: Iraq War properties are really strong right now. Mission Accomplished?) Acquiring sources is much easier in the U.S., where writers normally retain film rights to their work, than in non-North American markets where publishers have traditionally taken the rights (though with prodding from Hollywood this is changing).

Cook described her role in the negotiating process was to pour cold water on the expectations of people on both sides of the table – writers with optionable books, and production companies dreaming of ascending to the Oscar dais. Writers are at risk of wanting too much control over the finished product (“The director is the author of the movie,” is the amazing phrase she used) or signing with the highest bidder regardless of who would make the best creative partner to a project. Producers are at risk of getting carried away and overbidding because someone else (Scott Rudin was the running example) comes in with a lot of money, or letting enthusiasm push them to accept terms that will make it harder for a movie to eventually get made. Hayes offered as an example of this an author or writer who wants director, star or screenplay approval over their baby. That’s why Cook always pushes her clients not to ask for final approval as part of a deal: “As much as an author could be the most brilliant author, like Stephen King, he hated ‘The Shining.’ If he hadn’t liked it and been able to make those changes, we would never have gotten the Kubrick film.”

Another thing I learned, though, was that purchasing those rights isn’t always necessary for events that take place in the public domain. Often, Cook explained, production companies that option a memoir are doing so for other reasons besides what’s on the page – getting additional background that didn’t make it to print, consulting work on the film, or connections represented by the author. Hayes worked on “United 93,” for which there were many accounts available but no need to buy any because the events of 9/11 happened essentially in the public domain. In another case, he ended up purchasing the rights to IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY, about Americans in the American-only section of Baghdad, primarily to convince his financing partners on the movie “Green Zone” (directed by Paul Greengrass) that it was a solid property. This puts a slight wrinkle into my glorious future as a film scout; then again, the process will never go away, particularly for uncovering those “untold true stories” that producers love. 

BEA 2013: There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Bolaño

Live from BookExpo America, a major trade show for the book publishing industry.

 “It has been a real challenge to reach this place among the labyrinth and also to speak at this time of day,” said Juan Villoro, a scholar sponsored by Mexico’s Conaculta presenting at BEA this morning. “My friend Roberto Bolaño used to go to bed at this time.” Posthumously Bolaño reached a peak of fame that he never imagined in life, with commercial success and even Oprah knowing his name. Villoro compared his knowledge of Bolaño to “being friends with Bob Dylan before he performed at the Newport Folk Festival” – after long years of obscurity and a series of small publications, he happened to outlive his friend and wonder what he would have made of his renown 10 years after his death.

Villoro praised Bolaño’s work for its breadth of characters considered and the nuances of good and evil threaded through his plots. He offered three reasons for the author’s critical success: First, Bolaño lived an unconventional life through poverty, illness, repression and even a military coup in Chile. Second, he used his art as a sounding board for what he had lived through; THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES reflects his beliefs about the search for the meaning of life with a SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION meets ON THE ROAD plot. And third, most of his works are collectively narrated, full of voices “winding through the book like crowds entering and leaving a stadium.”

He idolized Mexico as the country that made him a writer and provided him the settings to most of his novels, but he didn’t live there most of his life and never ended up returning to Mexico City before his death. “’I am afraid of dying there,’ he would say, like a character in UNDER THE VOLCANO.” So most of THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES and other books were recreations from memory or the tales of his friends. He lived out most of his final years in Barcelona, not hiding his illness from his friends but still isolated by choice.

This talk was billed as an examination of Bolaño’s posthumous popularity as a case study for a successful crossover publication, but Villoro primarily ran through his memories of the author and amusing anecdotes about his career. Villoro met Bolaño at a writing competition in college, lost touch with him when he moved to Europe, and reconnected with him some years later. Bolaño affected to live a lavish life but was carefully frugal; he was often sarcastic but felt guilty when he started to pick up writing awards for fear he was becoming less of a radical. “He liked to compare himself to a Marine, ready to survive anywhere,” Villoro said, describing how he would intentionally take shots at his literary idols or tweak interviewers. 

I think Villoro protested a little too much that his friend was not interested in literary fame, given that he continued to enter literary competitions through his life and to publish, of course. (In American terms, he didn’t Salinger it up.) But I believe that if Bolaño had lived to see himself become the toast of English-language literature, he would have expressed similarly complex feelings toward it – one of those being, as Villoro said, that he “had had the last laugh.” 

BEA 2013: Fall Buzz Books to Watch

Live from BEA, the publishing industry's conference/bonanza.

One much anticipated conference session at BEA every year is the Editors' Buzz panel, in which editors present six hotly anticipated fall books. Its track record isn't perfect -- of last year's adult books, one became a huge commercial breakout and two critical darlings -- but the curiosity renews itself anyway.

My laptop was long dead by the time yesterday's panel rolled around but I took copious notes on this year's picks, including "X meets Y" Hollywood-style descriptors and other stray comments. Click to embiggen:

29 May 2013

Catching up on BEA reports from the day, and all I have to say is: Dear Harper Perennial/ IT Books, I will be your best friend if you let me purchase one of these totes.

BEA 2013: Boy Meets World Meets Ears – Podcasting For Rider Strong And Others

Live at BookExpo America, the major trade show of the book publishing industry. Because of the WiFi situation I wasn't able to add links to all of these great shows; I will work on that later when the connection is better. 

It wasn’t surprising that more than half of the audience assembled for “Building Community Through Podcasting” was contemplating starting a podcast of their own. Moderator Ann Kingman described the session as being a step above “How To Start A Podcast” and invited panelists to share their “origin stories”:

·         Kingman and her cohost on Books on the Nightstand are sales reps at Random House who got hooked on podcasting through knitting podcasts (no, but for real) and wanted to start one that wasn’t associated with a major media company like the Times. Podcasting fell in line with the book talks they were doing as part of the sales process.
·         Josh Christie of Bookrageous said his show started in 2010 among friends online who were already having conversations about books and reading they decided to start taping. There were a lot of interview podcasts (NPR, etc.) and a lot of serious academic podcasts, but he felt none that were aimed at consumers and popular fiction and nonfiction.
·         Julia Pistell reached out to two former classmates of Bennington’s MFA program, none of whom work in publishing now, to found Literary Disco – “for people who read GAME OF THRONES and then MIDDLEMARCH and then poetry.” (One of those classmates is Rider Strong of “Boy Meets World” fame, and there is a name I haven’t thought of in at least 15 years.)
·         Jeff Rutherford used to work in publishing at an agency before founding the Reading and Writing Podcast. He is the sole host, unlike the other podcasts on the panel, and conducts author interviews on his lunch break via Skype.

Christie described his listeners as “insidery” because many of the guests on his show are involved in publishing professionally. Pistell noted a high proportion of high school and college students who felt their love of reading was isolating to them, and write into the show grateful for its sense of community. She also hosts the occasional author guest and sees the podcast’s value as a marketing tool (for, for example, Sara Levine, author of TREASURE ISLAND!!!). Rutherford says his day job in digital PR is abetted by what he sees as a hobby, but he also enjoys talking with authors at length and meeting others in the podcasting community through it. 

The panelists use comments, emails, affiliate sales (through their website) and Goodreads community membership to measure their impact. Christie and his Bookrageous cohosts have a BEA party every year (it’s tonight, in fact). Kingman actually hosted a weekend retreat at an inn in Vermont with overwhelming results. Christie stressed that while podcast audiences can be numerically very small, the self-selection of the audiences and the consistency of delivering that content can indicate a high level of engagement to curious would-be sponsors or marketing departments.

The session whetted my appetite for podcasting and for listening to the 3 shows of 4 above that I’m not already familiar with. (Besides Bookrageous, my favorite book podcasts are Slate’s Audio Book Club, Other People with Brad Listi, and the New Yorker fiction podcast, which also got a shout-out at this panel. I’d also encourage people to check out the book-related episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF, Julie Klausner’s How Was Your Week? and Elvis Mitchell’s The Treatment.) I have long wanted to start a podcast but haven’t quite found that perfect co-host or -hosts who believe in that dream with me. (I could chatter on by myself, but then I’d have to also get guests. Hmmmm.) For other people like me who might be standing on that precipice, Pistell recommended starting with older books rather than new releases that no one has had time to read so far; the “long tail” of classics or books you (should have) read in school can get more members of your audience to participate because they don’t have homework to do. And Rutherford recommends recording 3 episodes of your show but not scheduling a release till the 4th show, so you can get in the groove first. 

BEA 2013: How Mexican Publishing Will Take Over The World, Maybe

Live from BookExpo America, a major U.S. trade show for the publishing industry.

Since the last time I did BEA properly and actually went to some of the panels, a major programming addition selected a “spotlight” country every year and designed panels around publishing issues affecting that country. This year’s is Mexico, a country exporting relatively little of its literature in translation unless it bears the name of Bolaño, so it was with great eagerness to learn that I stopped in on a panel about “Mexico’s Cultural Ambitions” for expanding its northern markets. In conversation were Julio Trujillo, editorial director of the Mexican cultural agency Conaculta (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, but you knew that), and David Unger of the Guadalajara International Book Fair (held every year in December).

Trujillo was charged with answering what “Mexico’s cultural ambitions” meant, and described it as the opportunity to take advantage of the 50 million people in the U.S. who speak Spanish and the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a well defined literature-in-Spanish market. He says Spanish in America has been left to the house and private spaces, so Spanish books here mostly come from Spain and Mexican publishers want to change that (in part because of the high proportion of Spanish speakers of Mexican descent here, compared to Spanish speakers of Spanish descent). Conaculta currently publishes books, but is trying to re-position itself as a resource for all publishers rather than a competitor. Government grants to translate Mexican books into other languages are one example of how Conaculta wants to help.  

Unger spoke next about the Guadalajara International Book Fair. One of the main issues in international publishing exchange, as he sees it, is the distribution of Spanish-language books in the U.S. and the lack of structure in it. In the 70s when Unger first visited New York, there were 7 Spanish-language bookstores there; now there are two. Los Angeles’ LéaLA book festival for Spanish-language literature is a start, but not an option for most Spanish speakers in this country to access. Guadalajara, the biggest Spanish-language book fair, is very close to Houston and Dallas and has been wooing American buyers and distributors to see the latest in South and Central American literature. Both he and Trujillo said American librarians are huge agents of change in this category because they are connected to patrons in the U.S. who actively seek out Spanish-language titles and thirst for contemporary works, not the same old classics.

Judith Curr, president and publisher of Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) brought up both the difficulty in distribution and the fragmentation of country literatures as challenges in finding titles for them to publish on their Spanish-language imprint. But taking chances can come with big payoffs: Atria Books Español launched with Laura Esquivel’s MALINCHE (briefly, “La Malinche” is the cultural idea of the first native Latin American woman to bear a conquistador’s child, thus ensuring the European and America bloodlines that would always be crossed) and now focuses on newer authors and discoveries (rather than re-publishing, say, Octavio Paz). They are committed to publishing simultaneous English and Spanish editions of their titles and look for books that will culturally resonate on both sides of the border. For one upcoming title, singer Jenni Rivera’s memoirs, the company is partnering with Walmart to publish an extended Spanish-language edition with photographs.

Moderator Rudiger Wischenbart of BEA signaled out as a key difference between our countries that Mexico has an agency like Conaculta to shelter and encourage Mexico’s reading culture, but there is no similar institution in the U.S. that really promotes translation and cross-cultural sharing. The cynic in me points out that we do have these government institutions, but that they are more often the sources of raging debates over what “American culture” means. Not to say Mexico isn’t its own kind of melting pot. But if Mexico can crack the mystery of why so few books on the American market are works in translation (3 percent is the oft-quoted fact, source apocryphal) that country’s industry will cash in hugely. I don’t think it’s a reader bias, but rather the preponderance of manuscripts available in this country in general, and the additional cost in ordering a translation which consumers never think about.

One thing I think we can agree on is that the burden of discovery for new Mexican authors (and more translated authors in general) shouldn’t be left to people who speak those languages anyway. The fourth member of this panel, David Burleigh, works with libraries to ensure e-book access for patrons – expanding the titles that language speakers can access. But he was grilled quite fiercely by Wischenbart on the subject of being a second-generation Spanish speaker who rarely reads in Spanish and described his language skills as “not the greatest.” We didn’t get a sample, so I didn’t ascertain for myself how good or bad those skills were – but why should it be up to him to be the standard bearer? Should another white person be judging that cultural mandate for him. Instead we all ought to be more curious about what Mexico and other countries are reading, beyond those few flashbulb breakout books that are here and gone. 

BEA 2013: Twitter For Readers Of Works Longer Than 140 Characters

For the next few days I'll be live from BookExpo America, a major U.S. trade show for the publishing industry. Hope you enjoy my notes and impertinent questions of respected authors.
This morning I attended a talk by Twitter’s Andrew Fitzgerald called “Your Next Readers Are On Twitter,” about the use of microblogging for authors and publishers. Fitzgerald began his talk with Twitter data for October 13, 2012, during the first presidential debate, when Twitter was used to “give Big Bird a voice” after Mitt Romney said he would vote to defund PBS. Then he provided several examples of authors who have been able to circumvent the traditional press cycle and stay relevant and visible using Twitter:

• During the series finale of “Gossip Girl” which drove the show to its highest number of mentions throughout the year, fans discussed the show live – and author Cecily von Ziegesar (@cesvonz) who wrote the original “Gossip Girl” series contributed as well.

• In March of 2012, Teju Cole (@tejucole) expressed his opinions on the #StopKony movement in 7 tweets that were later expanded to an Atlantic Monthly essay.

• Debut novelist Elliott Holt (@elliottholt) participated in a Twitter Fiction festival in December 2012, five months before her first book YOU ARE ONE OF THEM came out, and Slate called her story “Twitter fiction done right.”

I enjoyed Fitzgerald’s talk but found it pretty shallow, more of a sales pitch than a strong discussion. (Of course his employer has to be taken into consideration, but even then I thought he should have taken more latitude to discuss best practices for promoting your work online. (Of hashtags, he said “short is important” as well as easier to understand. Okay…) Better that authors learn these before they start using Twitter, but how will they learn? Fitzgerald suggests that publishers train authors to do it, but that doesn’t seem likely given how overloaded marketing and publicity departments are. He recommended Twitter’s landing page for authors, but that’s not enough.

Here’s my personal list of “worst practices” from authors I have seen on Twitter:

• Don’t just comment about your work and your book. Ask questions, share mundane details from your life, recommend articles or other books. An example of someone who does this well is Susan Orlean (@susanorlean) who often talks about her chickens and the differences between New York and L.A. as well as her New Yorker articles and book projects.

• Don’t follow people and then unfollow them right away to pump up your follower accounts. I can tell when people do this and it makes me feel like you’re not really following me for me, you just want to make yourself look more prominent.

• Don’t make your handle based on the book or project you’re working on now. Minor sin, but think of it as your permanent home on Twitter, like you would with a website, not @mydebutnovelforever. See how the authors quoted above use their names, or derivatives from those (props to Cecily).

• Don’t tweet 20 times a day. Less is more!

28 May 2013

Drinking like Shakespeare

Today I tried this new-to-me beer, Rogue's Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout. As far as stouts go I found it to be somewhat light, which wasn't a bad thing, but with definite notes of chocolate and a fairly even texture. I'd pair it with a hearty meal and a 40-degree-and-raining day (coincidentally, the exact weather we've been having here lately).

According to Beerconnoisseur.com, Shakespeare probably wasn't much of a beer drinker because of his country roots that led him to prefer ale, much as a displaced Wisconsinite can guiltily profess a nostalgic taste for Miller High Life. But that didn't stop brewers in his hometown from using him as a trademark years later, hoping to cash in on his reputation. The trademark went dormant for several decades but was recently revived as Flowers Original Strong Ale (Flowers being the family name of the brewers), with a picture of Shakespeare on the label. Compare with the above and see which you like best.

Rogue is brewed in Ashland, Oregon and previously appeared here for its White Whale Ale, a MOBY DICK creation (of course), in partnership with Powell's Books. They also sell a homebrewing kit if you're into that (and bless you if you are).

Photo: Alltravis.net

27 May 2013

Summer Reading 2013: Land Of The Free Edition

Reading list, activate:

Sheryl Sandberg, LEAN IN
Robert Caro, THE POWER BROKER. I had it on last year's list and never got around to it, but this year I give myself no choice! I believe I may be more successful this year in general since 85% of my books are in lockup storage and it may be a while before I can get a library card.
Isabel Wilkerson, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS -- One Book One Chicago selection for 2013

24 May 2013

"I steer clear of any novel that gets billed as a ;meditation.; I've seen 'moving meditation,' 'elegiac meditation,' even 'angry meditation.' To me, this is code for: Run! There's no story!"
--Maria Semple. She exaggerates, but the term is overused.

22 May 2013

Filmbook: "The Great Gatsby" (2013)

I have been anticipating this movie since it was a rumor of an adaptation, the kind of pet project that captures everyone's attention and then is never heard about again except for on Wikipedia. I liked it, and if you wanted to go see it tomorrow I'd probably go with you, but knowing that I'm studying it, I'm not losing myself in it. By that metric "The Great Gatsby" failed for me. Making me interested and even provoked? Right away, and completely.

You know the drill: A doe-eyed Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) moves in next door to a mysterious man who throws legendary parties -- Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who takes a shine to Nick after he finds out about Nick's rich cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who lives across the bay in the old-money Hamptons. (The Egg Islands. Whatever.) Debauchery ensues, but a calculated amount and deployment of it, leading up to the moment when Gatsby can set eyes on Daisy -- who he wooed lo these five years ago -- and try to woo her again. Luhrmann adds a frame story in which Carraway is writing THE GREAT GATSBY while drying out at a clinic in 1929, at his doctor's urging.

Luhrmann built his reputation on his "Red Curtain Trilogy" of movies strung together by theatrical motifs ("William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" being the one most germane to this audience, transplanting Italy into Southern California but with the Bard's language intact). MTV-style editing, swoopy camera shots, melodrama and anachronism were his tools, most of them notably absent from his last movie, 2008's "Australia." For those of us who loved the Red Curtain Trilogy, "Australia" was a sweeping, very pretty disappointment; it's hardly even worth describing its puffed-up plot because the vistas were more memorable anyway. More Merchant and Ivory than MTV, and that's the direction into which "The Great Gatsby" occasionally meandered, as if Luhrmann, now older, has grown more cautious. 

But caution is the last thing this movie about careless people, and those whose care prompts them to do lavish, wasteful things, requires to do its job. The director has never been subtle -- imagine those words "not subtle" in neon with crawling animated dots around them flanked by trumpeters to get what I mean -- and often it works against him. But the splashiness of his going there distinguish this movie from a more muted adaptation, like the Redford one I personally describe as "about nine hours long," or the lost 2000 TV film. (Look it up. Paul Rudd is Nick Carraway.) Chafe at the auteur theory or not, but not any director could have made this particular film; it's gotta be a Luhrmann. (There's actually a sequence in a flashback that directly calls back to "Romeo + Juliet" evoking a similar emotion, but I assume that was just put in for nerds like me.)

I loved this movie when it was gutsy and strange and had too much going on in the frame; I liked it less when it resorted to tricks like printing Carraway's narration on the sky as if it had drifted there straight from his typewriter, or repeating earlier lines in voiceover for Foreshadowing (capital letter implied). I loved the big, showy performances from DiCaprio, who actually looks to be having fun onscreen for the first time since "Titanic," Joel Edgerton as an almost-not-monstrous Tom Buchanan, and Elizabeth "Face Made For Flapper Era" Debicki as Jordan Baker; I also loved Mulligan's Daisy, who has to be so subtle so you don't either love or hate her. (I liked Maguire all right, but a lot less in the second half, when his attempt to put on an appreciative/ admiring face in Gatsby's presence left him looking like a cartoon hound.) I loved the mash-ups, and the way the movie's main pop theme is later worked over into an instrumental for the band at Gatsby's house. I didn't like the frame story, because so many other movies have been there (I was thinking of the BENJAMIN BUTTON film in particular, which offers a similar unresolved taste).

For my taste this movie would have to be a little bolder in its choices for me to love it, but several of its arresting set pieces stay with me even now. And everyone I went to see it with, loved or hated, expressed the desire to revisit Fitzgerald's classic.

Filmbook verdict: Of course I'm not going to let you get away with seeing this before you read the book, but if you read it and then see it, let's chat. 

21 May 2013

Could be my autobiography

Sarah Wendell commissioned this from artist Vicky Scott and it is perfect (except change the red hair to blonde, cat eyes to hipster black frames, remove the cat... etc.)

20 May 2013

What does your travel reading (possibly) (probably not) say about you?

A special correspondent sent in this piece from the Chicago Reader casting shade on a survey showing what people who are open to hooking up with their airplane passengers bring to read on planes. It's like a secret code: Flash your movie tie-in novel and make a connection! Well, maybe.

I really wouldn't qualify to be part of this survey population nor interpret its results (not that that's going to stop me) because, even if I weren't attached, I would never agree to go on vacation with a stranger. And really apart from a passing "Huh, cute guy" I don't get hung up evaluating my fellow passengers by their hotness or lack thereof. I think transit is a terrible place to hook up with people, because I am very busy eating snacks and catching up on my reading. Very very busy.

But I can acknowledge that people want to, and hey, if you're unattached and not actually hooking up in the seat next to me, why not? That said if people are looking for other people to hook up with, you should probably approach people who are looking around, alert and not reading. If you see them reading, they could actually just want to read. If they seem to be checking out the situation, it's more likely that they are on the same page as you re. wanting to meet people! Easy peasy. (My related theory is that movie tie-in people are most likely to hook up because they feel an obligation to get through that book, but aren't enjoying it so welcome any interruption.)

 I know a particular single lady who will be amused that GAME OF THRONES is on there representing sci-fi/fantasy, though, since she is hacking through that series this year. Unless you're next to her, though, you might not be able to tell her e-reader is pointed in that direction. (Do e-books completely ruin this type of people-browsing or just make it slightly more difficult? Discuss.)

The people I really want someone to study are those who don't bring any reading material on planes. Are you not aware that life is fleeting?!

17 May 2013

Even though I'm not a man, I suggested some beach reads for men on Men's Health's website. (They're great for other genders, too.)

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing

Big news! I'm moving to Chicago next month. 

I will miss New York and many in it, plus all my old reading haunts and bookstore halls o' temptation, but look forward to finding new ones along the Third Coast. I hope to see many of you here in NYC before I go. If you are reading this blog in Chicago, want to be friends?

I'm also looking for a job in Chicago -- if you can help please be in touch: lnvsml at gmail dot com.

Here's my future Mayor Rahm Emanuel reading DUCK FOR PRESIDENT. Emanuel is reportedly a big booster of Chicago literacy efforts, so I suppose I'll be seeing him soon. (People who skipped this post because of its non-sequiturial photo are going to be very confused in about 3 weeks.)

Photo: Talk Radio News Service

14 May 2013

You can keep your Messud-Woods

I feel a deep kinship with this photo of Meg Wolitzer and her husband at work from the Sunday Times. Also there are Simpsons jokes and Greater Wainwright Family references.

(Also hello, I still have a blog, apparently. What's new with you?)

09 May 2013

Martin Amis also hates hipsters

What a bandwagon-jumper: "He finds [life in literary New York] terribly transactional and, ironically given he was viewed as a literary hipster, he views the Brooklyn hipster scene as populated by conventional posers,"
Author Maureen Johnson asked her Twitter followers to re-gender books to call attention to ridiculous trends in cover design and the emails she gets about "non-girly" covers for her existing books. The results are quite spectacular. For obvious reasons, this is my favorite -- although in all likelihood the girl's face would be cropped a little further off the page.

07 May 2013

Ancient history

One of my goals for this summer is to decide what to do about this mess. I attempted to purchase this blog's domain name from the person or entity who is currently parking on it (not the .ORG, they seem nice enough) and boy, if someone could laugh over e-mail that person or entity laughed at my pitiable offer.

I hate to make sacrifices on the altar of cleverness and personal significance for unimportant reasons. (Let's not even talk about the time I had a great idea for a blog called The Pioneer and the first person I mentioned it to said "Like The Pioneer Woman?" Nope, wait, never mind.)

06 May 2013

I'm over at Publishers Weekly today where I interviewed British author Aifric Campbell. Her third novel ON THE FLOOR comes out this summer. Check it out!

03 May 2013

The woman who loved deals

I stopped linking to the Amazon Kindle monthly sales because they haven't been that good for a while, but this month's batch is pretty solid. Offerings include Ann Patchett's THE MAGICIAN'S ASSISTANT, Jhumpa Lahiri's THE NAMESAKE, and the much-loved-by-Franzen THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN. Over on the nonfiction side you've got THE LOST BANK about WaMu (too soon?) and THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN, about the pop culture takeover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Reading on the Road: The Great Unhousening of 2013

As I write this I am perched on a bed in Greenpoint, north Brooklyn, New York, the U.S., the world, the universe. Back in 2011 when I was looking for apartments in Brooklyn I loved this neighborhood but I didn't end up living here. Most of the apartments here are railroads ("shotguns" in Baltimore and New Orleans), with no hallways, where each room feeds into the next, so with a roommate, either one of you is always walking through the other's bedroom, or (more commonly) the door between your rooms is always bolted. The person on the end only has a door out into the common hallway, which they then use to get to their kitchen and bathroom. 
At the time I was living in an apartment with no living room and no closet, which wasn't that bad (the key phrase of New York apartment searching) until it became unbearable, and I decided I didn't want to settle like that again. I saw one place in Greenpoint that was not set up in this way, but it was above a funeral home and I decided that wasn't going to work either. (I told this to a guy whose sublet I was looking at a few weeks ago, and he said "I think I know that funeral home!") Instead I moved in with a nice engaged couple in Park Slope who defied some predictions that had been made and indeed got married, who are now moving to Boston because they don't want to be those Park Slope parents, although some of the benefits of same are very nice. (They have a paid listserve where you can get designer children's clothing for free! Don't tell anyone I told you.)

The rest of the country laughs at such Brooklyn myopia and why shouldn't they? But the beauty of it is that everywhere you go there are stupid nuances like this that you can spend your whole life studying. Before I lived in New York I interviewed for a job in the small town where I was living and I still think about how I would have turned out if I had gotten it. And I still picture the Greenpoint version of myself as just a little different -- maybe more winsome, with my hair half down, walking a little slower. (Not cool, Robert Frost.)

Now that I have lost all the readers who were hoping there was going to be a book recommendation buried in here somewhere, let's talk about travel! I am jawboning across the country to Washington State and then stopping in Chicago for a week on the way back. My stuff (thus reduced) lives in East Rutherford, NJ, except for the stuff that lives in SoHo (don't ask). My mail lives in the East Village. I live in this Airbnb rental in yes, Greenpoint for today, and I'll be back in Brooklyn soon, but that doesn't really answer the question.

01 May 2013

Unbookening: Great Unhousening of 2013 edition

(That's what I'm calling it; let's just go with it.)

Checked 3 books out from the library
Picked 1 off a stoop (wasn't thinking clearly) (not like that)
Bought 2 in a blind panic at O'Hare for fear I would run out of reading material (was fine) and 1 book club book
Received 3 to review
Got 1 from a blogmigo (thanks, Pete!)
11 in

Returned 4 to library
Donated 22
26 out

Moving is terrible and I recommend that you NEVER do it. I was culling pretty well, but at some point I just broke down and started shoving books into "Misc." boxes (also known as the "Why don't I just set everything on fire and start over?" stage of moving). Bye Park Slope, it's been fun!