Archive for December, 2003

Hook Me Up

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

So we leave town tomorrow and, after a brief stopover in the Bay Area to spend New Year’s Eve at my sister’s (and help her celebrate her birthday), we arrive in Portland by the weekend. If you have a book group or a writers’ group and wouldn’t mind an extra member, I’d love to join.

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If It Sounds Too Good To Be True…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

A few writers signed with Berkeley publisher Creative Books only to find out that their books had minuscule print runs, no marketing, and no promotion.

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Dean Can’t Win

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

Tom Tomorrow riffs on the notion that Dean Can’t Win. See the cartoon here.

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MJ Hoopla

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

There are certain news cycles I try to avoid completely, either because they’re uninteresting (Paris Hilton) or boring (Bennifer) or just plain weird (Michael Jackson.) But the latest news from the Michael Jackson debacle caught my attention: First came the claims, then the denials, that Michael Jackson had joined the Nation of Islam. Now there are further reports that NOI is indeed involved with the gloved one, at least in providing security for him. What annoyed me about this round was the complete lack of contextualization. For example, this AP article has one line on the organization, and doesn’t make the rather important point that NOI members believe in a separate prophet/messiah, a belief that would be considered heretical in the Muslim world. One comes away from this article and others feeling that an accused child molester is protected by Muslims. But I suppose amalgamations are the name of the game when it comes to the Other.

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And Then They Wonder…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

I was going to comment on the poor coverage of the Iran quake (notable exception: PBS and NPR) but Ed pretty much said everything I had to say.

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LCGR Feature Story

Monday, December 29th, 2003

I didn’t much care for some of what’s been written about 9/11 (no, not even by You Know Who’s story in the New Yorker), but “Good to Hear You” came as a refreshing surprise. Holiday Reinhorn’s opening paragraph pulled me in and I left my dinner to burn while I finished reading the essay.

On the morning two commercial airliners crash into the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center in New York City, my father wakes up in his bed in Memphis, Tennessee. Unaware of the disaster now in progress, he turns on the shower in the adjoining bathroom to awaken Laurie, his second wife who is still asleep, then shuffles into the kitchen to turn on the coffee machine and feed the cat. In the kitchen alone, my father lights his first cigarette and watches the cat, a skinny stray he found hiding in the barbecue recently, systematically wolf her food. It looks more like backwards vomiting than eating, he thinks, but my father watches the meatballs he has prepared for Littleslip (whom he also calls Lovebird sometimes, or Ki Ki) disappear with rapt appreciation. If he could, my father imagines, he would live with thousands of cats–thousands, if Laurie wasn’t allergic, but it is nice enough of her to even put up with this one, he reminds himself. Laurie (and it almost brings tears to his eyes to think of it) is a very generous young person.
Just after 9:30, Laurie appears in the kitchen in her business suit and the two leave their house at 7095 Ivy Leaf Circle. They step over the newspaper lying on the doormat and get into my father’s 1989 Honda two-door coupe. My father is behind the wheel in Bermuda shorts, T-shirt and Italian dress shoes. Laurie is beside him with her open briefcase in her lap, paging through computer forms that will become vitally necessary to her life in the hours ahead.

LCGR continues to impress me with the kind of stories its editors publish. It’ll be at the top of my list of subscription renewals this year.

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The Year Ahead

Monday, December 29th, 2003

The Guardian‘s Justine Jordan has an article about the year ahead in fiction. It seems that Hari Kunzru will have a new novel coming out in the Spring:

Impressionist author and scourge of the Mail on Sunday Hari Kunzru adopts a global canvas for Transmission (Hamish Hamilton, May), in which an Indian man who forsakes Bombay for an IT job in Washington, only to get fired, unleashes a computer virus on the world in revenge. The novel roams through Bollywood, London and the Scottish Highlands as well as cyberspace.

But that’s just the beginning. There’s plenty more to expect in 2004, including new books by Orhan Pamuk, Haruki Murakami, VS Naipaul, etc. It’s kind of fun to compare the Guardian‘s selections with these, from the Scotsman.

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Speaking Of Lists

Monday, December 29th, 2003

As the year draws to a close, everyone’s offering their notable books of the year. In honor of the upcoming move to Portland, here is a list of the top ten Northwest books. It’s unclear whether they mean best, or best-selling, and they mix fiction and non-fiction pell-mell. Then there’s this list of the forty notable books of the year. I liked that they included three collections of short stories (ZZ Packer, Julie Orringer, Sherman Alexie). Or there’s also this rundown of books about Asia or by Asians. It lists one of my favorites this year, Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, but misses Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, even though the novel is set in Afghanistan.

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Back in Action

Monday, December 29th, 2003

We spent the Christmas holiday eating Chinese, watching movies, and making the final few arrangements for the impending move. I’m drowning in lists: To-do list, contact list, shopping list, etc. Might be time for a list of lists.

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I’ll Wait for the Movie

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An assistant at a media company writes a thinly veiled critique of her former boss and gets a huge book deal. Yeah, yeah. The only twist in this story is that Rachel Pine’s novel, which is about a dysfunctional boutique studio oddly reminiscent of Miramax, was bought by Miramax Books.

In addition to the Weinsteins, there are a host of easily identifiable doppelgangers, including Steven Seagal, Billy Bob Thornton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Woody Allen, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, John Ritter, Larry Flynt, Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, David Schwimmer and Anna Wintour. Just as she has changed real people’s names ever so slightly (Thornton is called Jimmy-Joe Hawthorne), Pine also has altered several movie titles, but the ersatz replacements are hardly deceptive. “The English Patient” has become “The Foreign Pilot.” “Sling Blade” is known as “HackSaw.” “The Pallbearer” has been changed to “The Gravedigger,” “Scream” is now called “Shriek,” and “The Postman” is “The Milkman.”

The article quotes Harvey Weinstein as saying, “Contrary to popular belief, we do have a sense of humor about ourselves.” Hmmm. I’ll wait to see what he does with the movie.

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Movie Best Of

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

The Christian Science Monitor‘s David Sterritt lists his favorite movies this year. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only seen three of them.

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Who’s She Calling A Brat?

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Are biographies of women associated with great writers starting to overshadow those of the writers themselves? Katie Roiphe seems to think so. In this Slate article, she takes a new biography of Lucia Joyce by Carol Loeb Schloss to task.

These biographies interest themselves not with women who wrote great books, but with women who happened to be there as they were being written, women like Zelda Fitzgerald, Vera Nabokov, Georgie Yeats, Valerie Eliot, and Nora Joyce. The latest engrossing contribution to the genre is Carol Shloss’ Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake. Once the genre served as an original, quirky feminist corrective, but now, as it becomes more prevalent, it panders to a culture more enamored of family dysfunction and prurient gossip than art itself.

Roiphe complains that there is no evidence that Lucia Joyce had any talent, that she was nothing more than a dilettante with a taste for dancing, painting, and writing. I can’t speak to the other bios that Roiphe puts in the same bag as Lucia Joyce, but I did read Stacy Schiff’s Vera: Mrs Vladimir Nabokov, and I just don’t think you can come to understand Vladimir Nabokov without reading that book. Vera didn’t just “happen” to be there. She researched, corrected and typed his manuscripts, did all his submissions, translated his work, fought with his detractors, even made corrections on word choice when he was writing Lolita. I can’t imagine anyone telling Nabokov that he doesn’t have le mot juste. She sometimes wrote his lectures for him at Cornell, and on a few occasions lectured when he was unable to. Roiphe may have a point about Lucia Joyce, but I think she gets carried away and smears everyone else.

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Bookworm

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

I was looking forward to Bookworm’s re-airing of an Edward Said interview by Michael Silverblatt, but it looks like the show won’t air on KCRW tomorrow. Other NPR stations will carry it though.

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What’s The Score?

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

AlterNet has a fun quiz about the year in politics. Here’s a sample:

12. Walden O’Dell, the chief executive of Diebold Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of computerized voting machines, raised eyebrows when he said he was committed to what?
a) Rigging voting machines to ensure Democratic victories in 2004
b) Helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to President Bush in 2004
c) Utilizing an electronic version of the butterfly ballot to confuse Florida voters again
d) Installing software enabling voting machines to make helpful suggestions

And to my three Republican readers, before you start complaining about left-wing tendencies, take a look, the quiz takes a shot at Dean as well.

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Help!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

I’ve just about had it with PagePanopticon. It’s just too unreliable. If you’re happy with the aggregator you use, email me.

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Someone Get Him a Book

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

If you’re going to spend millions directing a movie in which you have to watch someone who makes Kevin Costner seem like Robert DeNiro, really, you ought to at least read the story before you get started.

With Paycheck, we have a Philip K. Dick movie made by people who similarly don’t seem to have time for the author’s prose. In an interview with the online news service SCI FI Wire, Paycheck producer Terence Chang said John Woo didn’t read the story that inspired the film.

I like John Woo, so to find out something like this is mildly irritating.

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A Bit of Borrowing?

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

A Penn State professor says that passages from The Scarlet Letter bear a striking resemblance to portions of a poem by James Russell Lowell. I get a sense that if one could Google the classics, there’d be more discoveries of this nature. Then again, with Amazon’s Search Inside The Book and Google Print, this may soon be possible.

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At Long Last

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

This is a pleasant surprise. Harper’s has finally revamped its site, and among the changes is the (long overdue) availability of archives of all the Weekly Reviews for the last few years. See Roger Dodge’s selections for this week’s review here.

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All Is Not Gloom And Doom

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

In contrast to the usual gloom and doom articles about the prospects of book sales, this one is refreshing. It talks about the fact that one in three parents would rather buy a book than a toy for their kids for Christmas! It mentions a projected seven percent raise in book sales for next year! It uses the phrase literary renaissance! Well, okay, so the article is actually about the British book market, not the American. And then it evolves into an idiotic discussion of star authors and other overnight sensations. But anyway, it cheered me up for a couple of seconds there.

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Year-End Panel

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

Maud was on a year end panel with Jessa of Bookslut, Michael Orthofer of the Complete Review, Alex Good of Goodreports and Robert Birnbaum of Identity Theory. The panel was given five topics to discuss: Feel-Good Story of the Year; Enough Already!; Under-Reported Story of the Year; The Apocalypse is Upon Us; Books of the Year; and Predictions. Their responses are here.

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An Interesting Observation and A Plug

Monday, December 22nd, 2003

Terry makes an excellent point about policitian-speak: He figures that lies sort of come with the territory, but he’s bothered that even when something is obvious, politicians will feel the need to spin it. Recently he came across an article by Michael Kinsley in Slate, which talks about Howard Dean’s candidness when he called Saddam’s capture a “great day” for the Iraqis and the Americans as well as “frankly, a great day for the Administration.” None of the other candidates came close to acknowledging this. Mostly they spoke of what a great relief it was that the dictator was caught, but glossed on what it really meant for their chances in 2004.
Here’s the plug. I was at the Dean for America site yesterday and noticed they have a new drive (okay, so maybe it’s a bit old, but I was busy moving, ok?) in which they try to get $100 donations from 2 million Americans. The idea is that 100 x 2 mil = enough money to actually compete with Bush. Now wouldn’t that make for a more interesting race? Go on over there and donate.

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Waldman Profile

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Literary Mama has a profile of author Ayelet Waldman.

Like [the protagonist of her novels] Applebaum, Waldman found staying at home with children isolating and boring. It’s a story Waldman has often told. After her second child, Isaac, was born, she decided to become a law professor, so she could live a less crazy life and have more time. She got a part-time gig teaching law school. But every time she sat down to work on her law review article — a necessity for tenure — “it was a catastrophic experience.” She found herself unable to write, uninterested in or intimidated by the academic approach to legal issues she still cared passionately about. So, in 1995, she decided to take a few years off and be a stay-home mom. “That lasted about a minute,” she says. “Seriously. I mean, I did it, I stayed home, but I got depressed. Definitely depressed. So I started writing while my son was taking his naps to make myself feel better about what I was doing.”

Read the rest here.

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LOTR Trivia

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Marquette University, which owns the original manuscript for The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, is set to acquire a host of secondary Tolkien sources.

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Sand And Fog

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

I’ve been trying to see House of Sand and Fog, but it’s only playing in one screen in L.A. (Century City) and I’d rather not brave the hordes of holiday shoppers to get to it. I’m very curious to see how Ben Kingsley portrays Colonel Behrani. The reviews so far have been mixed.

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Missing the Boat

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Much has been made of the fact that Democratic hopefuls criticized Howard Dean because of his statement that the capture of Saddam doesn’t make America safer. Guess what? It so happens that 51% of Americans feel exactly the same.

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On Moving Day

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

The movers walked in, their T-shirt sleeves rolled up, biker chains hanging from their belts, tattoos on their arms. They took their coffee black, in quick sips, leaning against the kitchen counter as they handed us the paperwork. They ate the croissants, but left the bagels untouched. After a quick walk-through, they made it clear that, despite the moving company rep.

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Google Print

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Publishers’ Lunch has the scoop on Google Print, a new feature that will allow Google to go head to head with Amazon’s Search Inside the Book. Here are the FAQs, and a sample search.

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This Just In

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Writing is good for you.

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Tyrant Encounters

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Journalist and novelist Salah Nasrawi writes about his brief encounters with Saddam pre-rat hole period.

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Tolkien’s Predecessors

Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

Michael Dirda has a piece on books that might have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

“Beowulf,” now available in a fine translation by poet Seamus Heaney. Tolkien himself wrote the best general essay on the poem “The Monsters and the Critics.”
Other Old English poems, such as “The Battle of Maldon,” “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer.” The first, in particular, presents as bloody, realistic and hard-fought an Iron Age skirmish as any in Jackson’s movies.
“The Song of Roland” — the classic French epic of war between Charlemagne’s entourage and Moorish invaders. The death of Boromir in “The Lord of the Rings” clearly mirrors the death of Roland, right down to the sounding of the horn.
The tales of the Norse gods and demigods. Scandinavian mythology is closer than any other to the history of Middle-earth, with a Gandalf-like Odin, double-crossing Loki, trolls and giants, and the cast-of-thousands final conflict of Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods.
The Icelandic sagas. Think spaghetti westerns on ice, with swords. Adventurous tales of lone fighters, outlaws, witch-like beauties, demon-ghosts, curses and revenge from generation to generation. In “Grettir Saga” the mightiest warrior in Iceland is haunted with fear of the dark; in “Njal Saga” one relentless man, over many years, hunts down the 40 killers who massacred his adopted family.

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