30 December 2013

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is all Chong's fault

"It was in prison that Belfort discovered his talents were transferable. His cube mate, or 'cubie' (at his facility, there were no cells), was Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. Chong laughed so hard at Belfort’s stories he pushed Belfort to write them down and get them published." -- Geoffrey Grey, "Meet Jordan Belfort"

27 December 2013

Top 12 posts of 2013

It's that wonderful time of year, the time when slothful bloggers go on vacation and just throw a bunch of links at their faithful public -- and when the analytics obsessed really go bananas. Judging by the performance of this blog, next year will entirely consist of conference recaps, defending female characters and books by comedians. I'm kidding... 
Six great reasons to participate in Buy Nothing Day (November) In which I tell you not to go to the bookstore, perhaps uncharacteristically.

SWEET TOOTH: Sometimes I swear these men are out to get me (September) In which I defend Serena Frome, who had a tough go of it. Did any of you read this book in the last 4 months so we can discuss? Because that would be delightful.

Spill some ink with Rob Delaney (November) In which I indulge in life beyond 140 characters.

Don't be Grumpy, go on a LAME ADVENTURE today! (June) In which I met Grumpy Cat at BEA and a very non-grumpy author. 

Boy Meets World Meets Ears - Podcasting for Rider Strong and Others (May) - In which my ears are sweetened.

Filmbook: "Austenland" (August) - In which Keri Russell proclaims that it's getting hot in here.

How Jonathan Lethem Writes (And Wrote) (May) - In which a New Yorker returns from L.A. 

"Originally known as 'The Mistake'" (February) In which I attend a Granta launch party and am bowled over by Lauren Wilkinson.

Twitter for Readers of Things Longer than 140 Characters (May)

When you make a billion dollars, you too can do whatever you want (July) In which I defend J.K. Rowling and THE CUCKOO'S CALLING -- sort of.

Dad is glad: My wholly unnecessary complaints about DAD IS FAT (November)

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, Tournament of Books 2013 (January) In which I cry on the subway. Thanks, John Green! (I bet he gets that a lot, and it must be emotionally exhausting.)

25 December 2013

Books I gave this year

For my smartass sister who could yet use a little picking up from time to time: Samantha Irby, MEATY. I hope Irby's 2014 is twice as good as her 2013, because her book of essays (springing forth from her excellent blog Bitches Gotta Eat) warmed my heart and made me realize how cold and coal-like it was.
For my other sister, the dreamer with the ridiculous MCAT score: Brandon Stanton's HUMANS OF NEW YORK coffee-table book, to reassure her that fascination can be found in the most mundane of places.
For my brother, who lurks on Twitter but doth not tweet: Rob Delaney's MOTHER. WIFE. SISTER. HUMAN. WARRIOR. FALCON. YARDSTICK. TURBAN. CABBAGE. Even with Twitter's popularity, fandom of its darlings can still feel like an insiders' club, and so it is with Delaney. I could never actually see him with my brother because we would both die of WASPy shame, but at least this way we can share in it together. (Only 7 more gifting opportunities before I'll be able to type that whole title without looking it up!)
For my dad, who gave me my love of movies for better or worse: Budd Schulberg's MOVING PICTURES and Debra Ann Pawlak's BRINGING UP OSCAR, two true stories about Old Hollywood. And the James Ellroy-edited BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY, to spot the next big thing.
For my boyfriend who bears the 'nerd' label with pride: Tim Leong's SUPER GRAPHIC, a collection of charts and infographics related to superheroes. Then I can secretly study it to make sure I fully understand what he's talking about (Hi! Also, sorry!)

20 December 2013

Very sad news out of Brooklyn: IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY author Ned Vizzini committed suicide yesterday. Vizzini was working on Chris Columbus' HOUSE OF SECRETS series as well as writing for a J.J. Abrams NBC series.

How Adelle Waldman Became A Novelist

One of the truest, winciest books I read this year about being a young person in New York was the debut novel THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. It had been a while since I read a book that wasn't merely emotionally true or factually true, but which had practically taken place in front of me, and I give Adelle Waldman all credit for that. 

How did Waldman spy on all my friends' dinners and parties all those years, and then get it all on paper? Was she, like the titular character of her novel, an overnight success after years of scraping by? As Waldman recently revealed in a Buzzfeed round-up of author advice, she left the city and moved back in with her parents, documenting the decision in a regular Wall Street Journal column she wrote at the time called Act One: 
"[W]riting a column about twentysomething issues... made it hard for me to ignore the impending 3-0: After all, what happens to a twentysomething columnist when she turns 30? It seems the standard retirement age of 65 wouldn't apply."With that birthday in mind, in the last year I've thought about what my long-term goals are and what kinds of risks I'm willing to take -- the kinds of issues I've written about in this column. Eventually I made a difficult and scary decision: to take time off from journalism to work on writing fiction."That's right. Instead of getting older and becoming more sensible as we often imagine we are supposed to, it appears I'm becoming less pragmatic, if also more anxiety-ridden.... Six months from now, I hope either to have finished the novel or gotten the dream out of my system. Then, I'll be willing to give a regular full-time job the focus of my attention."
Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal found another columnist for what we would now call millennials' issues, and Waldman wrote her first book while subletting her apartment and living with her parents in Baltimore (also Nathaniel P's home city, if I recall correctly). Looking through her old columns (alas, all behind the paywall), it's clear that Waldman was listening and paying attention all the time to the way her subjects talked among each other -- insight she was able to use in her first book. (That wasn't NATHANIEL P, by the way -- but I'm sure some publishers would like to know if they can publish it anyway!)

Clearly also the separation from the city helped Waldman, even if her move back wasn't completely smooth. "I thought that book would sell right away and everything would be great and I’d never need to have a regular job again. Then that novel didn’t get published and I wound up tutoring for six years," she told Buzzfeed. Still, she says that finished project gave her the confidence to eventually write and publish NATHANIEL P. As Ernest Hemingway wrote in A MOVEABLE FEAST, "Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan. I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough."

19 December 2013

Find your Oxford English Dictionary "birthday word"

How about a word that originated in the year of your birth? Let Oxford Dictionaries, using the OED, help you out with that!

fhwoosh of disappointment

18 December 2013

How to make Google Zeitgeist's top authors list

Tom Clancy topped the list of Google's most searched-for authors of the year. Here's what you should do to make next year's list:

  • Have a movie in production (John Green, Veronica Roth, Orson Scott Card, Clancy) or a TV show (Stephen King, Ree Drummond)
  • Put out a new book (Clancy, Roth, King, Drummond, Neil Gaiman)
  • Pass away (Clancy, Vince Flynn) 
  • Write romance (Sylvia Day, Maya Banks)
The top three books of the year according to Google Trends? LEAN IN, THE GREAT GATSBY and DIVERGENT.

Filmbook: "Kill Your Darlings" (2013)

I say, why shouldn't the Beats get their own "Heathers"?

When little Allen Ginsberg goes off to college at the beginning of "Kill Your Darlings," it's clear he's not going to settle in with the football jocks like his study-disdaining number-sweater-wearing roommate. ("Central Casting, get me the blondest dope you can find.") Instead, an older, more streetwise student named Lucien Carr takes him under his wing, giving him books to read and taking him to exotic downtown (and uptown) parties. Through him Ginsberg meets other people whose names you recognize by now like football hero Jack Kerouac and rich junkie William S. Burroughs. But Lucien also has a friend no one seems to like, named David Kammerer, who is always hanging around, helping him with his homework. What's his game, anyway? Is he in love with Lucien? Is it mutual? Wouldn't they all be better if they just dropped him for good?
I've been bending the rules again: Technically, this isn't a book adaptation, although it covers the same events at the same time as a novel Kerouac and Burroughs wrote together. This novel, called AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, then sat on Burroughs' shelf until he died, at which point his literary executor decided to wait until Carr's death to publish it. How close does it ring to the true events? Hard to say, but it's more of an artifact than a great book, as I described when I reviewed it on its final publication in 2008.

Even if they didn't talk about it much, that fall would mark all of the men through their friendships and sometimes more -- and I give this movie credit for not straightwashing* the Beats' circle, as some may be tempted to do. However, for at least its first half "Kill Your Darlings" is exquisitely art-directed and completely boring. I was suffering and digging for a pen, though not a light because I am not a monster. The most entertaining thing about those 45-50 minutes was David Cross as Ginsberg's father (yes, really, Tobias Funke!) If you can make it to the library sequence, you're home free.

It's a shame, because Daniel Radcliffe is developing into a fine actor under America's nose and one day he's going to sweep up and steal that Oscar and everyone's going to be all, "But Harry Potter!" But Harry Potter nothing. There is a seriousness to his intent here that is adorable, but also very fine. In fact most of the major players here were reverent without being two-dimensional; Ben Foster as Burroughs was just weird enough and Jack Huston infused life into the second half as Jack Kerouac. And Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" himself, brought that freaky intensity right in to his role as Kammerer. (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Elisabeth Olsen were also quite good, but typically underused.) Dane DeHaan, as Lucien Carr, was more of an unknown quantity to me; it wasn't hard to see why everyone was captivated by him, but sometimes I detected a nonresponsiveness to his eyes. If anyone in this movie gets male-gazed at, it's him.

I also have to fault the film for the twist it gave the final scenes to suggest something about Ginsberg and Carr's relationship that wasn't true -- at least, not that we have documented. It seemed so cruel at the time, and the film seems to take a side just in that one sequence, when otherwise it was more evenhanded than I predicted.

Filmbook verdict: Unless you've seen all 8 HARRY POTTER movies or are a Beat completist, wait for Netflix. Late-night cable will probably chop it up too much.

*Out of curiosity, I Googled this term to see how frequently it is used and found this interesting, though oddly formatted article about biopics and straightwashing. It leads off with "J. Edgar," which I thought somewhat straightwashes Hoover but is such a soppy mess otherwise that who would be able to tell? Don't see that movie. Go read the back of a cereal box instead.

17 December 2013

Tournament of Books X releases longlist, because you don't look busy

I'm planning to repeat last year's Tournament of Books reading experiment, so this list of possibilities was super exciting to me. Short list, coming soon?

16 December 2013

Authors ranked by their novelty candle scents

7. Jane Austen -- "my goodness,  Kitty, do you ever throw any of your flowers out from gentlemen?" "I always save one in case I need it for my scrapbook." (Coughing)

6. Mark Twain -- I deputized the neighbor kids to make this, not knowing they were going to put in Ol' Widder Thomas' vanilla. P-U!!!

5. Edgar Allen Poe -- and as he stared into the candle flame and the curl of smoke, a terror inchoate grew within him so that he might shout, "What Hath God Put Into This Thing?"

4. Emily Dickinson --

Good night! which put the candle out?
A smelly zephyr, not a doubt.
Ah! friend, you little knew
How long at that cassis wick
Tennesseans labored diligent;
Extinguished, now, for you!

3. Charles Dickens -- Sold by a merchant inevitably named Jeremiah Dripp who doesn't approve of your purchase and will keep telling you that every 100 words or so.
2. Leo Tolstoy -- also available in the "Things Levin Never Knew Existed, And Other Things He And Kitty Can't Live Without" catalog.
1. Oscar Wilde -- cedarwood, basil and bon mots. You can't keep up with its witticisms so don't even try.

(Available at Paddywax.com or at Barnes & Noble)

15 December 2013

David O. Russell, child of book publishing

Neal Gabler: Most filmmakers talk about how they were weaned on movies. You don’t seem to have been a movie geek from birth.

​David O. Russell: I always knew that I wanted to be a writer, because of our home, because of my dad. My dad was a C.C.N.Y. student who worked at Simon & Schuster in the stockroom and then became a salesman — his whole life was at Simon & Schuster. My mom was a Brooklyn girl from Queens College who worked as a secretary there. When we moved to the suburbs, there were books everywhere. I started a newspaper in high school, and I always wrote short stories. As a young man, I never thought I would be a filmmaker.

13 December 2013

Beyoncé supports great American literature

Beyoncé's surprise album (Merry early Christmas!) features a spoken-word clip from Nigerian-American writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose novel AMERICANAH was one of the best of the year. The "Bow Down"esque track "Flawless" samples from Adichie's TEDxEuston talk "We Should All Be Feminists" from earlier in the year. Adichie probably isn't, as the NY Daily News claimed, the first author to be featured in the New Yorker and a Beyoncé track, but it's probably a small club.

Watch Alice Munro's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Did your invite to the 2013 Nobel ceremony get lost in the mail? No worries, ours too. Luckily you and I have Alice Munro's acceptance speech on YouTube, since the author herself was unable to travel to receive her award live.

12 December 2013

No One Is Good Enough To Play David Foster Wallace Onscreen, Because Reasons

My Twitter timeline set itself on fire last night over the news that there will be a David Foster Wallace movie that is not a documentary. The film is technically an adaptation of David Lipsky's ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF, based on a Rolling Stone article where Lipsky followed DFW around on his INFINITE JEST book tour. (It's almost all transcripts; Lipsky fleshed it out after the author's death.) Playwright Donald Margulies ("Time Stands Still") will write the script, James Ponsoldt (the good-but-not-spectacular "The Spectacular Now") will direct and Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg will costar as DFW and Lipsky. Right now it's called "The End of the Tour."

It's a great day to be a David Foster Wallace fan and understand what this all could mean! So why is the general temperature of the discussion "No, not now, not ever, wrong"?

I'm with the New Yorker's TV critic Emily Nussbaum: I think the casting (which most people are focusing on) has a lot of potential. Just because Jason Segel has done mostly comedic work so far doesn't rule him out, and some of his turns on "How I Met Your Mother" have been very dramatic. Eisenberg would have to tamp down some of the smarminess he has deployed well in roles like Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network," but I believe in him too. We should be jumping up and down, this is a book about a cult author (sorry, but it's true) that will expose him to millions more people. 

The bottom line, though, is that no one will be considered acceptable for this role by the literary community because it's just too soon and the disappointment will hurt too much. If Meryl Streep had been cast and Martin Scorsese were directing, it would be the same. (I'd for sure see that movie as well, though. Someone Photoshop me a Streep with a white bandanna, please.) It's just -- stop throwing a fit, okay? We are become caricatures of ourselves. 

11 December 2013

I just started this memoir, by a Canadian journalist who was kidnapped while on assignment, on the recommendation of Slate writer Emily Bazelon. Unfortunately, it is taking all the willpower I have not to Google the author to find out what happens to her in the end. All the Christmas cookies in the world, play through.

06 December 2013

Richard Ford's CANADA is $1.99 for Amazon Kindle today (as well as B&N Nook, Google Books, Apple iBooks, Kobo etc.) Please let us discuss this!

04 December 2013


The New York Times Book Review released its 10 best books of the year. Excited that AMERICANAH and FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL made it. Looking forward to THE GOLDFINCH and THE FLAMETHROWERS. What do you think?

Defiance in professional garb

I can never get enough of books about FLDS, of which this is just the latest onslaught (and surely not the last).

Rebecca Musser grew up in Hildale, Utah in an upstanding FLDS household; her mother was a second wife to a prominent businessman who would entertain his aeronautics clients upstairs while his other family hid downstairs. Despite knowing she and her family were different from the rest of the world, "Sister Becky" was a happy young woman, musically gifted and curious, but her coming of age coincided with a bizarre chapter in FLDS history in which the wishes of late patriarch Rulon Jeffs became more and more erratic and paranoid. One such wish was granted when Becky was given in marriage to him at the age of 18, joining 18 other wives in a social arrangement only slightly less byzantine than the court of Marie Antoinette. Despite her best attempts to "keep sweet" and accept the wishes of the Prophet delivered through Rulon, Becky grew miserable with the restrictions continually placed on her -- unable to wear the color red, cut her hair or talk to men outside her family. She was constantly told to submit to her husband, and that soon enough she'd have a baby and wouldn't be able to rebel any more.

After Rulon's death, his son Warren began to make his own pronouncements, including hinting that he was prepared to take on his father's wives (seen as a privilege to them rather than to him). Despite having no formal education past high school and no money, Becky escaped the church with the help of a distant relative, later assisting others who wanted to leave. Eventually, she helped law enforcement prepare for the 2008 "Yearning for Zion" raid (in which over 400 women and children, virtual prisoners in a secluded FLDS compound, were removed peacefully while several of their elders faced arrest); Becky's role was primarily to act as a cultural translator between cops and church members. Her experiences during that raid led her to discover FLDS secrets even more destructive than the ones she had witnessed as a young wife in the church. (Some of these secrets may be revealed in the new TLC show "Breaking the Faith," which in keeping with my obsession I watched on Sunday night.)

Musser chooses to focus a lot of the second half of the book on the experience of testifying against former FLDS elders and leaders -- facing tough cross-examinations on the witness stand and even tougher criticism from the people she was trying to help. Her marriage fell apart because her husband didn't support her testifying (even though he was a fellow ex-FLDS member); despite a promise of anonymity, she found video of her testimony splashed all over Fox News. This wasn't the ending of the book I was expecting, but adds nuance to the reality that for victims of the Jeffs family and other church elders, arrests and convictions weren't the end of the story; they also had to find a way to live in a world that in no way reflected their upbringing. (Musser's younger sister Elissa has also written a book about her experiences with the FLDS, focusing more on the experience of being a teenage bride and the accompanying assault. I reviewed that one in this post.) The contrast is sharp between the FLDS language of subjugation, specifically through an aggressive domesticity (many children, close together, coexisting with other wives in the same house), and Musser's pursuit of justice.

In a way, leaving that piece of her behind in the FLDS community -- as well as her younger relatives who were there -- meant she couldn't disengage from the fight to give them their freedom. Like Elizabeth Smart, Musser comes to frame her experience as one of human slavery, linking it to thousands of women and children around the globe who live in similar situations but whose plights do not receive as much media attention. It's an incredible perspective from someone who was so sheltered as to believe her suffering was deserved.

03 December 2013

The other John Williams

John Edward Williams was a novelist and poet who spent most of his career at the University of Denver. 19 years after his death, his novel STONER was named the Waterstones (UK book chain) Book of the Year, a victory for the long tail -- or the notion that great books have no season, if you prefer. 

November Unbookening: Train, plane and automobile

Checked out 11 e-books from the library
Got 3 from my mom
Bought 4
Received 1 in a book swap (BORN ROUND)
19 in

Returned 10 to the library
Donated 3
Returned 1 to Mom
14 out

Books read in November
Brian J. O'Connor, THE $1,000 CHALLENGE
Rebecca Musser, THE WITNESS WORE RED (review coming up tomorrow!)
Beatriz Williams, A HUNDRED SUMMERS
Goodlad, Kaganovsky and Rushing, MAD MEN, MAD WORLD: SEX, POLITICS, STYLE IN THE 1960S (is it spring yet? Seriously...)
Frank Bruni, BORN ROUND
Jon Acuff, QUITTER

One major difference between my Chicago and New York life is my commute. I was fortunate in my last job to be just 40 minutes and 1-2 trains away (depending on whether I transferred or not), enough for a good chunk of reading but not tedious. Now my commute is over an hour each way, and it happens in stages, bus to train to bus again. (And yes, I thought about getting a car, but that would only save me time in the morning when there's little traffic. However you cut it, it's just far. Still, it is strange to work with so many car commuters after living in NYC where that is so rare.)

When I moved in September my commute shifted a little and I wasn't sure how to get as much reading time out as I could. Some mornings I just zoned out to podcasts (a completely okay choice, and sometimes I still do this!) But now I've got the process streamlined. I am getting a significant amount of reading done, though still crossing my fingers that next year we will move across town so I won't have to get up as early.

02 December 2013

I was surprised to see Veronica Roth, author of the DIVERGENT YA trilogy (soon to be a movie starring "The Descendants"' Shailene Woodley), on a local 40 under 40 business list. Turns out she is twenty-five years old and sold the book just after she graduated from college. So, what have you been up to recently? 

Dearly wish I had time for this

The New York Times has released its 100 notable books of the year list, in case you need some recommendations to buy on Cyber Monday (for others, of course!)