Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Death of a Friend

Today on The Rap Sheet, January Magazine’s crime fiction-focused sister publication, editor J. Kingston Pierce mourns the unexpected death of his beloved Saab:
One week ago today I lost an old and very dear friend who, despite never having offered a word of appreciation or any declaration of support, ultimately saved my life.
We offer our support and understanding. It probably means something that most of the editorial team at January Magazine are devoted Saab drivers, but I’m not quite sure what. (Well, excellent taste, obviously. But there’s more there, as well.)

Pierce’s touching piece is here.


Gone With the Wind at 75

Seventy-Five years after the publication of one of publishing’s major blockbusters of the 20th century, NPR looks back at the woman who won a Pulitzer Prize for her only published novel. Gone With the Wind has been one of the most popular books of all time, and has sold over 30 million copies:
In June 1936, a blockbuster of a book was published; it gave the world a sense of the Old South, an unforgettable heroine and (in the movie version) the phrase "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind sold one million copies in its first six months, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and brought an explosion of unexpected, unwished-for celebrity to its author.
The full piece is here.


Canadian Authors on the Barbecue

Asked which Canadian author they’d most like at their Canada Day barbecue, the largest percentages went for the icons: 10 per cent chose Pierre Berton or Farley Mowat, while another nine per cent picked Margaret Atwood. (Clearly, the Historica-Dominion Institute who commissioned the survey didn’t poll a largely crime fiction-reading crowd. Canadian mystery author Giles Blunt tends to invite sighs from fans wherever he goes. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he win a “hottest mystery author” poll a while ago on The Rap Sheet? Surely that should earn him a barbecue invitation or two.) From a press release from the organization:
The Historica-Dominion Institute asked Canadians to write their own great Canadian novel through a playful open-ended survey, and to answer questions on the importance and role of CanLit in education. The results tell a multitude of stories about this great country, and demonstrate an overwhelming impulse for historical education through Cancon-focused literature.

In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, in a fictionally affordable Muskoka cottage, in the Arctic, in downtown Montreal. These are some of the places where Canadians see their stories unfolding. A roughly even split chose either themselves (17%) or historic figures (18%) like Jacques Cartier or Wayne Gretzky as protagonists of their story. Interestingly, almost one quarter or 23% would write a history book, and nearly one third (31%) wanted to educate their reader, most often about Canada (rather than entertain 22%, cheer 22% or distract 5%).

“We’re excited to be tapping into the Canadian imagination while probing attitudes about how we see our own stories,” said Jeremy Diamond, Director of The Historica-Dominion Institute. “Canada Day reminds us of how important it is to celebrate those stories, and the authors who have helped to inscribe them in our collective memory.”
Though the creative silliness was fun, the survey turned up some potentially important facts:
Notably, the survey showed immense support for Canadian stories: 95% of respondents agreed (55% strongly, 40% somewhat) that ‘it is important that students read Canadian literature in school’ while 89% agreed (48% strongly, 41% somewhat) that ‘Canadian literature should be mandatory in all high school curricula across Canada’. In fact, three quarters (76%) agree (23% strongly, 54% somewhat) that ‘Canadian literature is among the best in the world’. Nevertheless, almost half (48%) disagreed (13% strongly, 34% somewhat) that they ‘read Canadian literature on a regular basis’. Breakdown by age reveals a troubling reality: 18-34 year olds were least likely, and one third less likely than 55+ year olds, to agree that they read Canadian literature regularly.
You can learn more about the Historica-Dominion Institute here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shakespeare’s Reefer Madness

Was William Shakespeare a stoner? Probably not. But that hasn’t stopped some fairly significant international speculation. From The Huffington Post:
People wonder a lot of things about literary legend William Shakespeare, like if he really wrote all his works, or if we even know what he looked like.

But a South African anthropologist has asked permission to open his grave to see if the playwright was smoking weed when he wrote his famous plays and poems, reports Live Science.
The full piece is here.


Art & Culture: Amazing Crayon Drawing by Lee Hammond

One of the simple joys of childhood: a rainy day, a blank piece of paper and a box of wax crayons. There was real pleasure in watching our masterworks emerge and the time spent creating them was never wasted. Why can’t we reignite that joy as adults? Illustrator and art instructor Lee Hammond says you can.

Amazing Crayon Drawing (North Light Books) pulls us back to that simpler place, but with a big change: Hammond directs us not only to that simple joy, with step-by-step instructions over a wide range of subjects, she shows us how to make the crayon drawings we create as adults more realistic. Hammond coaxes results from her students by bringing out the best of the rich colors available from a simple box of crayons with the right instruction. As Hammond points out, “even a single black crayon can create a dramatic drawing if applied the right way.” And the right way is entirely what Amazing Crayon Drawing is about. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Non-Fiction: Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber

While the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert are still somewhat shrouded in mystery, more details about the 1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan emerge as time goes on. As Pulitzer Prize-finalist and Washington Post reporter Del Quentin Wilber writes in the prologue to his new book, Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan (Henry Holt), the broad outlines of the day -- John Hinkley Jr. firing six shots at Reagan as the recently inaugurated 40th U.S. president exited the Washington Hilton -- are well-known. The title comes from Reagan’s Secret Service code name, and the image of a cowboy Reagan, who walked into the hospital on his own two feet and joked to his wife, “I forgot to duck,” looms large in American culture. But insider knowledge has been parsed out sparingly over the years, and among those tidbits is the fact that Reagan actually came much closer to dying than we realized.

Based on fresh interviews, historical documents and records, Rawhide Down purports to be the definitive account of what happened on March 30, 1981. Wilbur chooses to focus just on the events of March 30, and while it makes the book short, it serves it well. However, I found myself wanting to know more about the aftermath and investigation into the shooting. Hinkley, such a focus of the book’s first half, all but disappears from view once he is arrested, with Wilbur instead choosing to highlight the doctors and hospital staff who saved the life of a president.

Wilbur’s reporting on Hinkley makes up some of the most compelling sections of Rawhide Down. Rather than a cultural boogeyman or super-soldier in the shadows, the attempted assassin -- in Wilbur’s hands -- is shown as a human being. A wise decision. That’s not to say that the author shies away from showing Hinkley as anything but a sad, mentally unbalanced young man, obsessed with the film Taxi Driver and its star, Jodie Foster. One of the many revelations in Rawhide Down comes during Wilbur’s exploration of Hinkley’s fixation on Foster. For example, I knew that he was obsessed with her; I did not know that he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, and called her dorm room at Yale University in a scene reminiscent of that scene in Swingers. Much like author Dave Cullen does with his portrayal of mass-murderer Eric Klebold in Columbine, Wilbur leaves the reader with great sympathy for Hinkley -- that this was a youth in need of psychiatric care, angry and in his 20s, but not a psychopath. Not beyond saving.

The Hinkley section, however, is also where Wilbur falters in the writing of Rawhide Down. Throughout this book, but no more so than in the early chapters about Hinkley, Wilbur attempts to create a false sense of suspense. He describes Hinkley’s obsessions with Foster in broad, vague terms, obfuscating her identity. Wilbur is trying to make the moment of revelation that it is in fact Jodie Foster, Oscar nominee, into one of those stunning twists that, were this a 1940s suspense flick, might be punctuated by a “dun-dun-dun.” Perhaps Hinkley’s obsession with Foster isn’t as well-known as I think, but by the second time Wilbur tried hiding the fact that it’s Jodie Foster Hinkley’s thinking about, I exclaimed, “IT’S JODIE FOSTER, ALREADY!”

While Wilbur continues to develop this false suspense in the sections dealing with Alexander Haig, who was secretary of state at the time (and who, after misunderstanding the line of succession, claimed that he was in control of the White House in the aftermath of the shooting), it’s less obvious and annoying than in the Hinkley sections.

Wilbur’s prose is clean, crisp and indicative of his background as a longtime reporter. He’s concise when discussing the players in Rawhide Down, using elements of their past to emphasize the importance of their roles in the aftermath of this attempted assassination. Wilbur’s real gift in Rawhide Down is handling the many characters involved -- from Hinkley to the president’s chief of staff, the police and Secret Service members, and the doctors and nurses saving Reagan’s life. Even the president himself comes off as a person rather than an icon -- though early in this book, I worried that it would be become some “why Reagan was great” hagiography.

In many ways, Rawhide Down succeeds. Although this isn’t In Cold Blood, it is a brisk, engaging read that’s precise and exhausting in its detail. Wilbur shows his research with dozens of pages of footnotes. So even if you’re not interested in fact-checking, Del Quentin Wilbur has written an excellent non-fiction thriller about one of the most notable close-calls in American history. It’s worth your time. ◊

Brendan M. Leonard lives in New York City and is a regular contributor to The Rap Sheet.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

No More Fiction for You!

I only wish award-winning novelist Philip Roth had offered a more thoughtful answer, when he was asked why he’s given up on a whole category of books. From an interview with The Financial Times:
“I’ve stopped reading fiction,” he said. “I don’t read it at all. I read other things: history, biography. I don’t have the same interest in fiction that I once did.” Asked why he came to this position, Mr. Roth said: “I don’t know. I wised up.”
(Hat tip to The New York Times.)

Crime Fiction: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

Typically, murder mysteries don’t reveal the killer until the end. So when the killer in the new thriller The Hypnotist (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is revealed early on, you sort of think, Well, this book isn’t about what I thought it was.

And that, it seems, is the point. The whole book is like that. In fact, even the author is like that. Lars Kepler -- or rather, “Lars Kepler” -- isn’t one guy. It’s a husband-and-wife team from Sweden, who seem intent on giving Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell some serious competition.

The Hypnotist, this couple’s first novel, is a blockbuster in the making. Set in the land of girls with dragon tattoos, it’s a rip-roaring mystery/thriller that’s amazingly fun to read, relentless in its narrative momentum and stubborn when it comes to letting you go, even for a night’s sleep.

Two characters emerge as dual protagonists: Joona Linna, the seasoned gumshoe, and Erik Maria Bark, the hypnotist who’d rather not know anything about hypnotism. Linna is one of those brilliant career detectives whose work hinges as much on hunch and instinct as it does on evidence and testimony. Think Dr. Gregory House with a police badge and a Swedish accent. Bark, meanwhile, has given up hypnotism as a result of Something Terrible that happened to him a decade ago. It’s Linna's request for Bark’s help to solve an extremely graphic and bloody multiple-murder case that gets The Hypnotist going -- and once it’s going, hold tight. I don’t want to spoil one iota of it, so I’ll just say that the plot swirls with a dizzying velocity beyond what you expect. A marriage falters. A son vanishes. A man compromises his principles. People are killed. Revenge is achieved.

Somehow, the authors (both of whose good looks match their prodigious talent) have crafted a novel whose many different parts -- thriller, procedural, broken-marriage cautionary tale, primer about teenagers -- add up to something far greater than it maybe should. And it’s all held together, expertly, by razor-sharp writing; an arch, knowing tone; compelling characters; and finely honed, fast-moving prose. Hell, even the plot device that isn’t supposed to work -- a protracted flashback!! -- holds together. And more, it holds the plot together, too.

The Hypnotist is the book everyone will be talking about this summer. At least everyone who’s hungry for yet another Sweden-set mystery. But to lump this in with Larsson and Mankell just because it’s Swedish would be a terrible disservice. To tell the truth, I forgot all about Sweden as I was reading the novel; it could have been set in wintry Massachusetts just as well.

No matter what it’s origins, what matters is that The Hypnotist won’t make you sleepy. In fact, it won’t let you sleep at all -- because from the very first page it’ll have you in its spell. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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Pierce’s Pick: A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen

J. Kingston Pierce goes back to the classics for this week’s Pierce’s Pick of crime fiction.

Ron Hansen’s A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion gets the nod this time out. “This enthralling fictionalization of a real-life 1927 murder case features Ruth Synder, a perfidious wife who begins an affair with traveling corset salesman Judd Gray -- and then encourages him to kill her older husband,” writes Pierce. “Author James M. Cain drew from the same scandalous tale to write The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

You can see previous Pierce’s Picks here. You can hear more from Pierce at The Rap Sheet.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Robert Kroetsch Dies in Crash at 84

Sad to report that acclaimed Canadian author and poet Robert Kroetsch died in a car crash on June 21st. The Governor General’s Award-winning author was 84. From Quill & Quire:
The death of iconic Canadian novelist, poet, and critic Robert Kroetsch comes as a blow to Canada’s literary community, which is mourning the loss of one of its great stylists and chroniclers of the West. “He wrote about the Prairies with passion and insight,” says Kroetsch’s former wife, University of Guelph professor Smaro Kamboureli, who was married to him for 21 years. “He taught me how to love the Prairies.”

Kroetsch died Tuesday in a two-car collision near Drumheller, Alberta, while returning from the ArtsPeak Arts Festival in Canmore.
Kroetsch also wrote compellingly about the North. In a 1999 interview, Kroetsch spoke with January Magazine’s J. Kingston Pierce. “In ways the North is a beautiful blank page that invites our scribbling,” Kroetsch said at that time. “Then one looks more closely and discovers many tracks that preceded our own.”


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Today: Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art by Gallery 1988 & Kevin Smith

Since 2006, Crazy 4 Cult has been a hugely successful annual art show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. The shows celebrate cult movies in art in a way that is surprisingly relevant and often even strangely touching.

With the fifth Crazy 4 Cult show ready to open July 8th, Gallery 1988 has created a book that selects from the very best from the shows’ first four years. Crazy 4 Cult (Titan Books) includes work by Shepard Fairy and others inspired by films such as Donnie Darko, Clockwork Orange, TRON, Pulp Fiction, Clerks and many more.

Speaking of Clerks, producer Kevin Smith writes the foreword here, putting his mark on yet another aspect of this pop culture classic in the making.


Saturday, Sartre and Solstice

Today is the first day of summer and Takashi Murakami helps Google celebrate today with a whimsical piece of artwork that makes one think of warmth. At the Google search page, click on the art for a search of solstice-related links and information.

According to The Writer’s Almanac, two important literary birthdays are celebrated today: novelist Ian McEwan (Saturday, On Chesil Beach) is 63 today and writer and philosopher and long-time main squeeze of feminist author and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre (who died in 1980) would have been 106. You can read about both authors at The Writer’s Almanac.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fiction: El Filibusterismo by José Rizal

It is appropriate that, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth, one of the best loved novels by the “hero of the Philippines” be commemorated with a Penguin Classic in the form we all know and love.

José Rizal was born on June 19, 1861 and executed 35 years later on December 30, 1896, creating him as a martyr of the Philippine Revolution.

Rizal’s was an extraordinary talent. He spoke 22 languages and was a prolific writer. Though best known for the novels he wrote -- in particular Noli me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and its sequel El filibusterismo, Rizal was also an essayist, poet and correspondent and optometrist. Scholars of his life and work, however, remember him as being one of the significant forces for the Revolution: his execution providing the final straw that would ultimately lead to the end of the oppression for his country.

According to Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, Rizal “wrote two of the most influential works of colonial or post-colonial fiction in the history of Spanish-language literature. They are openly political, snaked with melodrama and hortatory, and they helped form a pervasive legacy so imbued with chimeras that in some parts of the country he is revered as a modern-day messiah.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Young Adult: The Shattering by Karen Healey

The Shattering (Allen and Unwin) is the second novel by Kiwi author Karen Healey, who lives in Australia. It’s not a sequel to Guardian Of The Dead, but a fine cracking mystery in its own right.

Keri, a teen living in the West Coast town of Summerton in New Zealand’s South Island, has recently lost her brother to suicide and is still grieving, as are her parents. In fact, the funeral is barely over. Nobody can understand why Jake killed himself. There was no warning, no suicide note. He simply shot himself -- and Keri found the bleeding body.

Jake is only one of a bunch of teenage boys who have killed themselves over the last several years. Two friends, Janna and Sione, have also lost brothers. When Janna suggests there are connections, Keri and Sione are willing to consider it.

Something must be going on. The town has been beautiful one day, perfect the next, for years now, since the boys started killing themselves. Summerton is the only town in this area that seems to have survived the financial crisis with weather and tourism intact. Janna is a witch, one of a number in Summerton. She believes magic is involved -- could she be right? Are there really supernatural elements? Read it and decide for yourself. No spoilers here!

This is a thriller that explores real teen issues. Each of the characters must learn a lesson to help him or her grow. The nerdy Sione is not really sure how his brother felt about him and often can’t see what is under his nose. Keri has her own issues, apart from the grief, but to tell you would spoil it. Janna has some hard decisions to make about her life.

The book takes you into the heart of a small town in which everyone knows everyone else and any secrets will spread like wildfire.

If you like adventure and folklore and mystery, you should get a lot out of this one. Recommended. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

How to Kill the Love of Reading

Every modern parent knows that, to raise a reader, you have to encourage reading. However Julia Donaldson, author of around 120 books and Britain’s new Children’s Laureate says that, when it comes to kids and reading, there really is such a thing as too much.

“I don’t believe you should push your children too hard,” Donaldson told The Independent. “They are so sensitive. If they are not ready to read it can be detrimental and it is more likely they will be worse off. I really find pushy parents a pain. I have met a lot in my time and while it is important to read, it should be enjoyable. It should be done for pleasure.”


Téa Obreht Wins the Orange Prize for The Tiger’s Wife

At 25, Serbian/American Téa Obreht has become the youngest author to ever win the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction with her debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife.

Awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English by a woman, since its debut in 1996, the Orange Prize has been won by such literary luminaries as Barbara Kingsolver (for The Lacuna), Zadie Smith (for On Beauty), Lionel Shriver (for We Need to Talk About Kevin), Andrea Levy (for Small Island) and Carol Shields (for Larry's Party).

The other shortlisted authors were:

Emma Donoghue (Irish) for Room (Picador)
Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean) for The Memory of Love (Bloomsbury) Emma Henderson (British) for Grace Williams Says it Loud (Sceptre)
Nicole Krauss (American) for Great House (Viking)
Kathleen Winter (Canadian) for Annabel (Jonathan Cape)

January Magazine contributing editor, David Abrams, was over the moon about The Tiger’s Wife is his review back in April. “The Tiger’s Wife is so majestic in its telling,” he wrote, “you almost don’t hear the the morality whispering past your ears. But the philosophical foundation of the book is strong and only serves to deepen Obreht’s strength as a storyteller.” That review is here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fiction: Pulse by Julian Barnes

The title of Julian Barnes’ 17th book refers to the rhythms that function within each relationship. So, at least, it would seem, because Pulse concerns itself entirely with love and relationships, a topic that turns out to be as fraught with danger as his previous collection, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, which focused on death.

Barnes has broken this collection into two distinct parts. In the first, he explores contemporary relationships, punctuated by repeated appearances of a set of couples at regular dinner parties, observing and commenting, most often not too kindly.
“Did you see the map of global warming the paper the other day? It said a four-degree rise would be utterly disastrous -- no water in most of Africa, cyclones, epidemics, rising sea levels, the Netherlands and southeast England underwater.”

“can’t we rely on the Dutch to sort something out? They did before.”

“What time span are we actually talking about?”

“If we don’t agree now, we could have a four-degree rise by 2060.”

In the second part of Pulse, Barnes looks at love in a more historical way, with forays into the 18th and 19th centuries. The results are somewhat predictable: times change, but the human heart, truly, does not. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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Daphne Du Maurier Paintings Will Be Displayed

Millions of readers have loved Daphne Du Maurier’s darkly creative novels but, after many years on the shelf, her paintings will now come to light, as well.

According to a BBC news video, for a brief period in the 1950s, the author of Rebecca, The Birds and many other novels and short stories, suffered an angry bout of writer’s block. Unable to write Du Maurier turned her creative energy to painting, producing a series of carefully Impressionistic landscapes. Fearing they lacked merit, Du Maurier’s estate has kept the paintings out of the public eye until now.

The short BBC segment can be seen here.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Novelty Book Is Runaway Bestseller

It may be the first book ever to become a bestseller based pretty much on the strength of the title. Chances are, though, that Akashic Books who publishes Go The Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, isn’t distressed about the why. From Publishers Weekly:
Calling the book a “fluke hit,” Johnny Temple, publisher of Brooklyn Indie house Akashic Books, said he couldn’t be happier about the frenzy over Go The F**K to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes, a parody of a kids’ picture book that he’s about to release. The surprise hit title has more than 275,000 copies in print and doesn’t go on sale until June 14.
Despite the book’s early success, Temple isn’t popping the champagne… yet.
Temple sounded a note of caution -- unexpected bestsellers, and the capital it takes to fund large and unplanned print runs, have been known to hammer and sometimes financially overwhelm small presses. Temple said that Akashic went back to press four times to get to the total print run and admits he could have released even more copies. “I’m fiscally cautious. Small publishers can be swamped by something like this,” Temple acknowledged, “but I’ve been pinching pennies here at Akashic for so long that we’ve been able to handle it.”

Pierce’s Pick: A Fear of Dark Water by Craig Russell

J. Kingston Pierce returns to the United Kingdom for this week’s Pierce’s Pick.

Craig Russell’s A Fear of Dark Water gets the nod this week. “As an environmental summit begins in Hamburg, Germany,” writes Pierce, “a storm brings in flood waters -- and a headless corpse. Cop Jan Fabel figures it’s another victim of a serial killer who stalks victims through social-networking sites. But the case is soon complicated by a doomsday cult and an exploration of cyberspace’s dark side.”

You can see previous Pierce’s Picks here. You can hear more from Pierce at The Rap Sheet.

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Naipaul Thinks He’s Better Than Austen: Why Are You Surprised?

Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul riled readers the world over last week when he told the Royal Geographic Society that there was no woman writer who could match his masterful prose. From The Guardian:
He felt that women writers were “quite different.” He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
What was surprising about this outcry was the stated surprise. Naipaul’s misogyny is well known; even documented. And, anyway, argues Susan Cheever at The Daily Beast, who cares?
Talent is no indicator of character. A good writer is not automatically a good person or a good teacher or even a particularly good thinker. Faulkner famously told his daughter her feelings didn't matter because "no one remembers Shakespeare's child." Was Charles Dickens a great husband? Was Edith Wharton a good friend? Do we care? Bad men write good novels and so, alas, do bad women. I've known a lot of writers in my life and I can testify to the fact that their writing often seems to have been written by someone else -- some kinder, empathic person who has taken up residence in their bodies.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Celebrities With Books Turn Heads

When did carrying a book get to be something worthy of remark? This seems an odd thing to celebrate. The Sun UK “reveals some of the inspirational works that have turned stars into bookworms.”

Here’s Harry Potter star Emma Watson with a Chicken Soup book. And Lindsay Lohan with an eff-you expression and a copy of Susan Shapiro Barash’s 2009 whinefest, Toxic Friends. Next party girl Paris Hilton photographed with a book with a title one would think Hilton would have come up with herself: Living In The Moment by Gary Null.

All of this is in stark contrast to a recent comment from Victoria “Posh” Beckham that she’s never read a book (The comment was later restated by the star, but still.) and from Jamie Oliver whom the Guardian said “is forever boasting ‘I have never read a book in my life -- ever,’ the sort of extreme debating pose he’d presumably find less helpful were it a 104-year-old woman explaining she'd never eaten a vegetable in her life.”

Friday, June 03, 2011

Fiction: The Meowmorphosis by Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka was first published in 1915. It is arguably one of the most important and seminal works of short fiction of the 20th century. The Meowmorphosis (Quirk) is, clearly, not that book.

Like all trendy things, the current literary mash-up rage started with a deliciously sublime idea -- in this case 2009’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- and has since been becoming increasingly stretched and ridiculous in the time between. In some cases, ridiculous has been good and interesting, even thought-provoking on occasion. Though author Coleridge Cook (A “beloved fantasy novelist” writing under a different name. Hmmmm.) does a credible job with questionable material, for me The Meowmorphosis never quite gets there.
One morning as Gregor Samsa was waking un for an anxious dream, he discovered he had been changed into an adorable kitten.
In this way The Meowmorphosis is like a reverse mash-up. In the most common of the literary mash-ups, we begin with a spiritually calm literary work (say Pride and Prejudice) and then stir in an element of horror. (Zombies count.) In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a man awakes to discover he’s become an insect. Scary stuff. In this reworking, a man awakes to a softer reality. For a while.

There is a second twist. Kafka’s Metamorphosis is narrow in scope: the novella takes place entirely in the home Gregor shares with his parents. But partway through The Meowmorphosis, awakened kitty Gregor escapes into the streets of Prague, where he encounters characters from other Kafka works. This is a pleasing twist on the original: one might even say Kakfaesque. (Or, at least, Kafkaish.)

Though the idea behind The Meowmorphosis is original -- one might even say clever -- I can’t help but think things have been pushed a little too far here. And what is too far? There’s sizzle here, but I’m not so sure about the steak. ◊

Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in the Chicago area, where he works in the high-tech industry. He is currently working on a his first novel, a science-fiction thriller set in the world of telecommunications.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

Books to Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo American Style

That didn’t take long. The American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first Stieg Larsson thriller, is coming this Christmas. A newly released rocking, in-your-face trailer now online proves it.

David Fincher, who worked miracles last year with The Social Network, has produced this film very quickly. It seems like just yesterday he was announced as director, with Rooney Mara as the title character and Daniel Craig as Blomqvist. You might remember Mara as the girl done wrong by Mark Zuckerberg in the opening scene of The Social Network. Nice work, Rooney, turning a small part in one film to the girl everyone wants to see in the next.

Fincher is pulling all the stops, and he needs to. He's following a very tough act: the Swedish film adaptation of this book was very, very good. Fincher has the chops, though, and some of his previous runs at gritty, off-beat stories have been groundbreaking. Seven, Panic Room, and Fight Club have all sported Fincher’s signature edgy style. A score by Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor—who won an Oscar for his Social Network score—should add a gritty, contemporary ambiance to the film. With just six months until opening day, the publicity machine is already working overtime. One can barely turn around without encountering Mara -- generally with seemingly constantly fewer clothes.

Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opens December 21st. I’ll see you in line.

Check out the trailer here.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Poetry Olympics Planned for 2012

The largest poetry festival evah is planned for the 2012 London Olympics. Poets from around the world will no doubt begin competing immediately for a the chance to represent their country at the Cultural Olympiad that will be a proud part of next year’s Olympic festivities. From The Guardian:
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, poets from the 205 Olympic nations are competing to be part of the UK's largest ever poetry

Led by the Southbank Centre's artist in residence, Simon Armitage, and artistic director Jude Kelly, Poetry Parnassus will be part of next year's Cultural Olympiad. It will see 205 poets – one from each of the 205 Olympic nations – taking part in readings, workshops and a gala event, touring the UK and contributing a poem in their own language for a poetry collection, The World Record, which will champion poetry in translation.

Members of the public around the world are being asked to nominate up to three poets from any of the 205 Olympic competing nations, with a panel featuring Armitage and other poetry experts then shortlisting the recommendations to come up with a final line-up of one poet per country. This will be announced in spring 2012.

Marilyn Monroe and The Misfits

Marilyn Monroe was born on this day in 1926. The American Film Institute ranks her as the sixth greatest female star of all time. (Clearly, it’s a somewhat subjective list: ahead of her are Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo, in that order.)

Monroe was married three times. Though all three ended in divorce, her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller seems to have been her most significant relationship. On the occasion of her birth, Writer’s Almanac today remembers their connection:
In 1956, she married playwright Arthur Miller, who wrote of her, “She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensitivity that few retain past early adolescence.” They first met in 1951, when he was still married to Mary Slattery, and he encouraged her to come to New York and study stage acting. He was the first person to take seriously her desire to improve as an actress, and he sent her a reading list; she began taking college classes in literature and art. They renewed their acquaintance, and began an affair, when she moved to New York to study with Lee and Paula Strasberg in 1955.

Their marriage was often filled with strife. Marilyn, who desperately wanted children, had several miscarriages, and she grew more and more erratic, and more dependent on painkillers and sedatives. They separated after filming her last movie, The Misfits, in 1960. Miller had written the screenplay for Monroe, to aid her quest to become a serious actress and, he later admitted, to try to heal their fractured relationship, but it had the opposite effect: She collapsed completely, and the marriage was over. He soon married photographer Inge Morath, whom he’d met on the set of The Misfits, and she began seeing Joe DiMaggio again. She died in August 1962, after an overdose of Nembutal.

Her personal secretary reported that Monroe ended her last interview with a plea: “What I really want to say: That what the world really needs is a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don't make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe.” She pleaded in vain; her words did not appear in the article.
Above: Monroe and co-star Clark Gable light up The Misfits in 1961. It was to be her final completed film. Gable, meanwhile, died 10 days after the completion of filming.