26 April 2013

Filmbook-to-be: Buying the GATSBY movie tie-in edition makes you look stupid

The tie-in edition is likely to appeal to "the new reader," said Nan Graham, the publisher of Scribner.

"The repeat reader is going to buy the classic cover," she said in an interview. "A person who is more likely to buy the movie tie-in is reading it for the first time. In Walmart, this is the book you're going to see."

So much shade being thrown in the New York Times today about the new Leonardo DiCaprio GATSBY cover. True reading confession: I have to buy a new copy of GATSBY because I cannot stomach reading my high-school-era annotations in my current copy, and I wouldn't definitively rule out buying the movie edition. (The original illustration is so striking though.)

25 April 2013

Oscar Wilde's relatives want you to stop doing this

Whoever originated the tradition of kissing Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris probably didn't have their hair shat on by a bird at Pere Lachaise like I did. (So glamorous.) But descendants of the famous rogue, along with the Irish Cultural Institute in Paris, have cleaned off the tomb of its famous kiss marks and walled it off with glass to prevent further damage by the thousands of visitors it gets every year. (Wilde died in Paris of meningitis, totally broke; friends paid for his burial there.) 

One of the descendants told the New York Times they want to urge devotees to "Try to behave sensibly," indicating that they really didn't understand Grandpa Oscar at all.

Photo: Metimemo

24 April 2013

That's Doctor Yunior to you

Junot Diaz will receive an honorary doctorate of letters this spring from the best college ever. Congratulations!

Filmbook-to-be: "Great Gatsby" fan art makes life worth living again

Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby 3-D" arrives in theatres in a hair over two weeks and the film's official Tumblr blog (of course there is one) has been running a fan art contest. I regret to credit the person who made this, only because I was at a very low point of existence when I came across it, and I immediately laughed until I wept and then emailed it to 80 people. I believe this is based on the 1968 Dick Van Dyke vehicle (ZING) "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," but it's hard to be sure!

I will do my penance by attending a midnight screening of "The Great Gatsby" and then telling you all its secrets.

23 April 2013

Seasons may change, winter to spring

...but even before there was AOL IM and OK Cupid, dudes like J.D. Salinger wrote to ladies asking for more pictures (and then oops couldn't send their own). Also: he dated Eugene O'Neill's daughter! I'm going to go write to my grandma and see if she has any Salinger fan letters sitting around.

Happy birthday, William Shakespeare!

I got you a slideshow of some of your best insults over cat pictures (from Buzzfeed).Very 2013. Wait, I also got you a meme:

22 April 2013

Terrible poem written in time for National Poetry Month

"You don't know how precious your iphone battery time was until you're hiding in the bottom of the boat" is a real line from a new poem someone wrote about the captured suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing. I was going to say that I was not ready to find the humor and the humanity in all of this, but then I remembered that Esquire piece about being on a one-night stand during city lockdown, which did both of those things really well! Another great thing that essay did is that it personalized the crisis without calling attention to how profound the author was trying to be; instead it deliberately played up those aspects of the author's predicament he may wish to forget, and I respect those kinds of lengths of personal humiliation. Maybe this poet should have stuck to what she knows or experienced instead of trying to make artistic mincemeat so soon, and thus undercook it.

20 April 2013

New Meghan Daum book expected early next year

Daum wrote to subscribers to her L.A. Times column list online (which you can sign up for here):
As you may have noticed, the column has been a bit less frequent of late. In order to meet a book deadline, I've decided to scale the column back to twice a month for the next few months. This will likely continue through the summer. Thanks for your patience and, as always, for being such faithful readers. This column is now in its eighth year -- hard to believe!
 Meghan, you are welcome and don't worry about it! (My favorite Daum deep cut: "Music Is My Bag.")

19 April 2013

Free books! (GIF Reaction Friday - Mit Schlag Edition)

Posting this publicly for my NYC people (seriously, just going to email this post to people), but if you are elsewhere and there's something you're dying to have, email me or comment and we can work something out.

Jami Attenberg, THE MIDDLESTEINS (I own this on Kindle -- highly recommend)
Cheryl Strayed, TORCH
Paul Auster, SUNSET PARK
Rachel Kadish, TOLSTOY LIED
John Banville, ANCIENT LIGHT
Michael Moss, SALT SUGAR FAT
Danielle Henderson, FEMINIST RYAN GOSLING **okay, so much for objectivity, I just have to put in that the only reason I'm giving this away is because I got two copies for Christmas and I would like to see it go to a good home**
Patrick Somerville, THIS BRIGHT RIVER 
Alexander Soderberg, THE ANDALUCIAN FRIEND
Adam Christopher, EMPIRE STATE
Gary Shteyngart, ABSURDISTAN

At some point there will probably be a few more than these, but this is most of it.  

Fine print: 
1. Appearance on this list should not be considered either a positive or negative review by me; some stuff on here have I loved but I have to stay in the "minimum estimated volume" with my movers, Or Else. Some I haven't even had time to read, so hopefully you can tell me whether I was a fool for giving it away. (I was, wasn't I?)
2. I'm too idle to mark which ones are galleys; I hope that doesn't bother you anyway.
3. If you want some books but you just aren't sure what you want... I'll do a consult for you and pick out a few volumes.
4. Free glass of wine if you come by and pick them up yourself. (But be prepared to drink it out of an off-brand Solo cup because my roommates have all the wine glasses.)
5. Donation day is April 29, so make it snappy.

18 April 2013

Meanwhile, at a public library near you

I'm in Chicago this week -- actually still stuck there due to monsoonish weather and three (3) canceled flights, so that's cool -- and I took the opportunity to visit the Chicago Public Library to hear director William Friedkin ("The Exorcist") talk about his memoir THE FRIEDKIN CONNECTION.

Friedkin is a hammy old guy who parts his hair just like your grandfather. His interviewee Adam Kempenaar of Filmspotting, whose voice I can practically imitate after years of listening to his great show, served as the audience's reaction shot to his taller tales. His first tall tale concerned a library book Friedkin had supposedly checked out from that library in 1951 -- a collection of plays -- and not returned until, supposedly, this very night. He waved the red book and said "I acknowledge that there will be fines." It was a stunt, but it served.

Friedkin's filmic résumé is a real fruit basket of genre and style, but from his vantage point -- still making a movie every three or five years -- what unites them is the emphasis on particular characters and the situations he finds them in. He casts his actors by talking to them, not screen-testing them, and has the stubbornness it seems to make the movies he wants to make. He expressed frustration for getting caught up in the "trivial" business of securing funding and distribution in order to make those movies. For a man whose love of film was kindled by watching "Citizen Kane" six or seven times in a row when he was 21, it is easy to be sympathetic to his frustration (even if Welles may not have been).

The library seemed like an odd venue till I learned from his talk that not only was Friedkin raised in Chicago, he spent his early years doing a lot of research as a TV director -- that research is what pushed him into film, after he spoke to a prison warden who introduced him to death row inmate Paul Crump. (The resultant documentary "The People Vs. Paul Crump" catapulted him to Hollywood, where his first feature film was a vehicle for Sonny and Cher.) The most tantalizing remnant of all this research is the body of primary sources Friedkin used to make "The Exorcist," a compilation of interviews with the real child on whom the movie was based and diaries from people who were around him (surprise!) when the exorcism was taking place. Many details have been changed to protect that child's innocence, but Friedkin let drop that he is alive, retired from NASA (?!) and has no recollection of the traumas of his youth.

The Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library is a reddish brown hulk the size of a city block and a mass of gleaming white marble on the inside. I was tickled to see the photo of Mayor Rahm Emanuel inside wearing his trademark smirk. I later learned that he is heavily involved in the city's One Book, One Chicago group reading initiative (but he probably still knows something we don't!) Visitors should also keep an eye out for a scale model of "the Bean," Anish Kapoor's sculpture in Grant Park (its real name is "Cloud Gate"), about the size of two bunches of bananas. I don't normally make a point of seeking out libraries in cities I visit, but I should from now on.

16 April 2013

What if they gave out a fiction Pulitzer and nobody came?

Understandably it's hard to get emotionally worked up about news of the Pulitzer Prize Committee's 2013 honorees, including the fact that they indeed decided to award a fiction prize this time around. Would we be in another universe where we could properly honor Adam Johnson's THE ORPHAN MASTER'S SON for being the newest fiction book to sit atop that throne. (It also won the Tournament of Books this year, ensuring that that contest will be ever more closely watched in years to come -- I hope.) Johnson's novel about surveillance and fear in North Korea itself is a referent to violence, albeit that which has been expected, unlike the events of Monday.

Other honorees included Sharon Olds for poetry, Ayad Akhtar for drama and David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab for reporting on Walmart's Mexico misdeeds for the New York Times.

15 April 2013

In which a great self-publishing discussion gets a little WOOLly

Over the weekend, self-published success story Hugh Howey removed a blog post on his website he deemed too mean, but that could have led to a great discussion. The post detailed an encounter with a person at the Hugo Awards who, apparently unfamiliar with his work, was fairly rude to Howey about his decision to self-publish (sorta, now) and denigrated him to a greener writer.

There is a fair amount roiling below the surface of this tale -- a summoning up of old insecurities that Howey may have felt, despite his runaway success; a glimpse of the awkwardness of all conferences, even outside the literary halls; a note of aggrievement, perhaps, that the author was not recognized, or was it a note of relief that he could pass through and get to know the general public? And beyond that a great sea of questions about the interaction of authors who are published within the Big Six (or "traditional" or "brick-and-mortar" publishers, or however you like to term them) and those who take an alternate route, by chance or on purpose.

But we won't be having that discussion over this post, because Howey titled his entry "The Bitch From Worldcon," spent most of it ripping on her appearance and "crazy" manner, and ended it with a... fantasy? in which it is implied he goes onstage later, to her chagrin, and invites her to perform favors on him. 'Cause, chicks, right? How dare they act contrarily?!

I'm still fuming but here are some way better analyses on what happened at Worldcon: A great blog post called Does A Nasty Artist Make For Terrible Art? has screenshots of the offending piece, which Howey eventually removed at the behest of his wife, but also an examination of how much our authors' personal failings bear on their art. Lamptime Is Over continues the actual discussion I wish we could have over this, writing (as a self-published author) that "self-publishing is never going to have the legitimacy people want until they stop acting like they’re being assailed from all sides." And Jenny Trout at Sweaters for Days positions it as a teachable moment for how to approach authors at conventions like Worldcon.

It is just a shame that Howey felt so cowed by this one person, who probably regrets something she said in that encounter but sure as heck won't be apologizing now, that he had to take the slimy gender-attack approach to taking her down. Resorting to "well, she was ugly and crazy" is just bad storytelling.

12 April 2013

GIF Reaction Friday: Rob Sheffield On Karaoke Edition

I have been an unreasonable champion of Sheffield's first two memoirs, LOVE IS A MIX TAPE and TALKING TO GIRLS ABOUT DURAN DURAN. His third, TURN AROUND BRIGHT EYES, will be out in August, at which time it will Jell-O wrestle Chuck Klosterman's new book (also due out this summer) for the title of Most Likely To Be Tucked Under A Hipster's Arm On The Way From The Beach To The Bar. (That fight will be emceed by our pal Nathan Rabin's new book YOU DON'T KNOW ME BUT YOU DON'T LIKE ME, mandatory reading out June 11.)

This seems like an appropriate time to initiate the Summer 2013 tab. It's hard to be sad when something so exciting is at hand.

11 April 2013

Christy Mathewson: From Rogue to Gentleman

Last night I crawled out of a hole and set off for Powerhouse Books in DUMBO to see Will Leitch of Deadspin and Chad Harbach talk about baseball. The sky was ominous already and the backdrop to their discussion was forking lightning over the bridge. If this had been a game, it would have been called.

Leitch has written voluminously about baseball for New York and as the founding editor of Deadspin, a site that is better known for athlete scandals than sports coverage these days. Beyond his debut THE ART OF FIELDING, following the fortunes of a college-baseball player at a small town in Wisconsin, Harbach wrote the introduction to a new edition of PITCHING IN A PINCH, a 1912 guide to baseball written by former Giants and Reds pitcher Christy Mathewson. Mathewson still ranks among the top MLB pitchers and was known in his time as a virtuous gentleman He famously never pitched on Sundays, although Leitch pointed out that at the time his league had very few games on Sundays anyway, so it wouldn't have been that difficult to stand on his conscience.

According to Leitch and Harbach, PITCHING IN A PINCH aimed to do the opposite of what Jim Bouton's BALL FOUR (which they called the best baseball memoir out there) did decades later: It legitimized baseball, considered a "rogues' game," for the thinking viewer and classed it up in print. This was but one of many differences our hosts expounded upon between baseball back then and now, including lower player autonomy and their tendency to take side jobs outside of league play. Mathewson also played pro football for a bit, while other players in his era would be paid $3,000 a week to star in off-season vaudeville shows (which Leitch compared to a Derek Jeter type getting $5 million a week to be on Broadway -- unimaginable!). Some of these economic conditions persisted into the time of BALL FOUR but the idea had already entered the public imagination of the noble sportsman who plays for love of the game -- a Mathewson type for certain.

Now it's fairly common for players to write (or cooperate with someone who is writing) a splashy memoir about their game, but PITCHING IN A PINCH is more about the game than it is about him. Yet it also served as an unwitting memorial to Mathewson's career: Four years after it was published, he retired from play in order to manage; later, he served in France during World War I where he caught the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him. He would eventually be one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with dudes like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

The event was hosted by Penguin Classics who is publishing the new edition of PITCHING IN A PINCH, and it's fairly rare that classics reissues get readings like this -- but a welcome change. Perhaps the house is trying to distinguish itself in light of the forthcoming Random Penguin juggernaut, a merger that was recently approved by the EU. (I know the new entity will really be called Penguin Random House. Just leave me to my illusions.) 

10 April 2013

"Also, and maybe most importantly: writing is just writing! Writing is just a practice that improves over time, like doing yoga, and sometimes MFA programs help a person with this and sometimes they don't. Writing is a vital and fundamentally democratic art that nonetheless requires programmatic interference to not favor the privileged; writing is a skill that is useful in so many other arenas other than the teaching of short story craft. Writing is a proposition that is not worth fussing over in grand "Can Writers Really Have It All?" style but is certainly worth nurturing for the insane glimmers of genius and transformation that will be waiting once we put the dumb think pieces down."

--Jia Tolentino defends the mighty MFA.

08 April 2013

Unbookening, Australian style

The Australian charity Footpath Library worked with Random House Australia to create book covers that can be turned into mailing boxes to send the books to those in need. The charitable applications are great, but think of how easy this would also make sending books to your friends! (My kingdom for a right-size padded envelope dispenser all the time.) Good.is via unconsumption.

What would Scott Turow do?

Scott Turow has an op-ed in the New York Times today dramatically titled "The Slow Death of the American Author," pegged to a recent Supreme Court case allowing foreign editions to be resold here without violating copyright. (When I first heard about this case, I thought: That was illegal? I know of a bookstore... but oh well, never mind that.) Turow correctly ascertains that that will cut into authors' profits, but expands that to describe a larger trend of external forces sapping creators' profits.

I guess the benefit of a megaseller like Turow offering this analysis is that no one can accuse him of sour grapes. However it shakes out, he'll still make a living, as he acknowledges in a discussion about e-books: "Best-selling authors have the market power to negotiate a higher implicit e-book royalty in our advances, even if our publishers won’t admit it. But writers whose works sell less robustly find their earnings declining because of the new rate, a process that will accelerate as the market pivots more toward digital." (For a much angrier take on this, see Mark Helprin's DIGITAL BARBARISM, whose "no digital anything" argument led me to keep it on my desk at work as an inside joke.) However, lumping in book publishing economics with online piracy and Google Book Search makes for an imprecise picture, and certainly members of the former who are affected by the latter would resent the suggestion that they are in cahoots. Nor are those groups acting in concert with Amazon (whose concerns are of a different set) and libraries (who have conflicts with Amazon, and e-book marketers, and publishers... you get the picture).

But the biggest mistake Turow makes is walking us all up to the ledge, pointing at the spiky rocks below and not describing what he would use as a guardrail. Turow cites the example of Russia, where piracy runs rampant and thus "few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation." But correlation isn't causation -- surely piracy hurts all intellectual property creators in Russia but there could be a lot of reasons for Russian authors not being known worldwide. (Lack of translation, for example.) The suggestion of thuggery and ignominy isn't a great place to land, except for its questionable scare value. Tell me Mr. Turow, what would you suggest?

05 April 2013

GIF Reaction Friday: "Arrested Development" Returns May 26 Tribute Edition

The cumulative effects of this week including family in town, a surprise trip and a band of widely variable weather:

Here are some great things to check out across the Internets:
  • Regular Commenter D.H. Sayer describes how a chance encounter with an unfamiliar name in a David Foster Wallace profile led him to discover the author Carol De Chellis Hill. A great example of the serendipity reading can provide. 
  • My sometimes hometown haunt Boswell Book Company gets a splashy profile in Milwaukee Magazine for having the gumption to survive and thrive in this digital age (via The Billfold). But I still find its story partly tragic in that it was born out of the demise of a four-location indie chain (Harry W. Schwartz) and thus will always be a little bittersweet. Guess I'd better make my visits more frequent.  
  • A new imprint based here in Brooklyn will reissue old YA books from the 1930s to the 1970s and bring them back into print. The name behind Lizzie Skurnick Books should be familiar to some of you; her column Fine Lines on Jezebel.com revisiting the young-adult books of her past led to a collection of essays on the same topic, titled SHELF DISCOVERY. Congratulations! 
  • The great Margaret Atwood reads a story by Mavis Gallant in this month's New Yorker fiction podcast. Will the edition of Gallant's diaries about being a struggling writer in Europe be out this year? A woman can dream!
  • New York note: McNally Jackson and Housing Works are hosting a downtown literary festival next weekend, including lectures, walking tours and after-parties. Better yet, it's free and you don't have to camp in a field to be there!

04 April 2013

"I'll be able at last to do what I've always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review." --Roger Ebert

Like everyone else I am stunned practically into silence by Roger Ebert's passing, news of which broke today. Ebert had just announced this week that his cancer had recurred and he would be cutting back on day-to-day writing at his truly spectacular site, and that was bad enough news for those of us who love his writing. I think the best memorial that can be offered is to point toward his thousands of reviews and to his funny, earthy, amazing memoir LIFE ITSELF.

03 April 2013

March Unbookening

I like this chart better than yesterday's...

Checked out from the library: 4 books
Received to review: 6
Received as gifts: 5
Bought: 2 (Meg Whitman's THE POWER OF MANY, for a book club, and BROTHERS EMANUEL, because I'm a huge fan)
17 in

Donated 18 books
Returned 6 to the library
24 out

This would be laudable except that I'm giving up my lease and have to move out of my apartment in less than a month. Those books are not going to box themselves up! I would bet money (if I had any that wasn't going to that enterprise) that I have more books than my three roommates combined.

To stave off panic, I am envisioning my life in this process as an umbrella, that retains its structural identity and its usefulness even when you close it up. And eating lots of Kraft mac'n'cheese, because you can't take it with you.

Image source: exp.lore.com

02 April 2013

I am the 19%

Feast your eyes (or not) on this terrifying chart from the Codex Group, based on surveys of about 30,000 American readers. The Atlantic uses it to explain who Amazon is hoping to target with its Goodreads purchase: the 43 million Americans who read 12 or more books a year. Yup. Unlike yesterday's Philip Roth post, this is real. 

01 April 2013

Mere months after announcing to the world that he was going to retire from writing, no, but for real this time, Philip Roth has signed a three-year first-look deal with HBO. The network announced that it is moving forward with a pilot based on his award-winning novel AMERICAN PASTORAL as the first in what will hopefully be several collaborations with the bard of Newark. Somewhere, Jonathan Franzen looked away jealously.