1. Ed Champion isn't won over by Fool, Christopher Moore's comic spin on Shakespeare's King Lear, which is enough to warn me away (I considered spending time with the book, but the cover art didn't pull me in either). In other Lear news, I'm just plain happy that an Anthony Hopkins film version of King Lear has been cancelled. Hopkins was marvelous in Remains of the Day but has been disappointing in many big roles, mainly because he can only play one character, the "Anthony Hopkins guy". I really wasn't looking forward to seeing King Lear with an icy stare and trembling lips. Meanwhile, Al Pacino's Lear may still happen, and while I also don't need to see a surly over-caffeinated King Lear, I believe Pacino has a greater range of character than Hopkins.
Another requirement for an actor attempting Lear is humility, since the King must play straight man to his Fool and read his best lines while upstaged by a storm. This is why I liked Kevin Kline's modest Lear, and would be happy to see this one recorded for posterity as well. Historic King Lears we can still enjoy include Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Laurence Olivier and, a personal favorite of mine, Albert Finney in The Dresser.
2. Not ... another ... unpublished ... Kerouac novel ...
I am glad the estate is publishing the archives, but I don't like the hyped-up hardcover release formats and I find it strange how much excited press coverage Kerouac bottom-scrapers like And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks and Atop An Underwood or the new The Sea Is My Brother get, as if any reader would be better off reading these books instead of, say, Big Sur or Desolation Angels or Doctor Sax or Subterraneans or Town and The City or Visions of Cody or Wake Up or even Good Blonde or Satori in Paris or Vanity of Duluoz.
I think Kerouac had excellent judgement about his own work -- that's why he carried manuscripts of so many of the above-mentioned novels in his rucksack for years waiting for the world to eventually smarten up and appreciate them. But the novels he was carrying in his rucksack for years were Subterraneans and Visions of Cody and Doctor Sax, most decidedly not Atop An Underwood or And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks or The Sea Is My Brother. I trust Kerouac's judgement.
3. I enjoyed Roy Blount Jr.'s well-written editorial about whether Amazon's text-to-speech feature violates authors' rights, but I'm really not getting excited about this boring controversy. To quote a description I once read of a 1970s bar brawl between David Bowie and Lou Reed, watching the Kindle team battle the Author's Guild is sort of like watching two old ladies try to pat fires out on each other's bellies.
4. Tom Watson, author of Cause Wired, takes on Rush Limbaugh for the Huff.
5. Norman Mailer.
6. Cam'ron is working on a television comedy project, and cites Larry David as an inspiration. I can't think of many hiphop artists who could make this work, but Cam has the talent and the crude/funny chops to pull it off, and I hope it happens.
7. Apparently Alan Aldridge, the artist who drew the cover for Elton John's excellent 1975 autobiographical album "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy", was the Chip Kidd of his time, at least in England.
8. Rambling on. (If you click through you'll get to Frank O'Hara, but we're taking the slow route).
9. Jack Tippit's cartooning rat race, from a 1950s cartoonist's insider sheet.
10. Laura Albert is writing a new work of fiction at Five Chapters.
1. Watching the Oscars on TV with Caryn last night, I felt a strange reverberation as the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay were listed. Slumdog Millionaire, it turned out, was based on a novel called Q & A by an author named Vikas Swarup, and something told me I had mentioned this novel years ago when reviewing the New York Times Book Review.
Indeed I had, very briefly, way back in 2005: "I'll start with the good parts: a truly interesting article about Edmund Wilson; notices of Naphtalene, an epic novel of Baghdad by Alia Mamdouh, and Q & A, a picaresque yarn by Vikas Swarup that begins with an Indian game show called 'Who Will Win A Billion?'."
Most of this old post is taken up by a rant about a bad essay by Rachel Donadio, which also brings back memories, and even though I intended to follow up by checking out the novel by Vikas Swarup, I never did. I am looking forward to seeing Slumdog Millionaire, though, and that's certainly a better title than Q & A, which can still be found here.
I went to see a new production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I like to go to the opera, but I can only afford to sit in the cheap seats in the second balcony, up in the very stratosphere of the opera house.
You can still experience the full pageantry of an opera in these seats. The acoustics in the Civic Opera House are so good that the sound quality is excellent as far away as row Z. The problem is it's difficult to see the singers. Most cheap-seaters bring opera glasses or binoculars and spend the whole time looking through these gizmos. I scoff at these people. To me, the singers, seen from the second balcony, look like an opera company in miniature. I imagine that I am watching an opera performed inside one of those glass globes that you see at Christmas, the ones that if you turn them over and shake them, cause a snow storm to fall on the village within. The tiny players, although small to the eye, have magnificent voices that carry all the way to my seat in the highest altitudes of the theatre.
My fantasy intact, I settled in. The orchestra started. The curtain went up on act 1, scene 1. I was transported to Catfish Row, the fictitious black community in Charleston, South Carolina, where the story takes place. Clara, the wife of Jake the fisherman, is singing a lullaby to her baby. The lullaby is the most famous song from the opera - “Summertime” - a song that has been recorded by everyone from Duke Ellington to Janis Joplin.
1. It's fitting that O'Reilly's electronic book publishing technology conference Tools of Change is happening at the Marriot Marquis in swirling Times Square, still the publishing bellybutton of this city, with the New York Times toiling down the street, Conde Nast fretting across the block, Simon and Schuster, Time Inc. and Random House not far away. Well, are the smartest people in publishing here on the 6th floor at the Marriot Marquis today? Time will tell.
The big news at the conference when I arrived at noon was the earlier nearby Amazon Kindle 2.0 announcement, complete with an amusing Stephen King fly-by. The buzz about the Kindle is not positive among this crowd (closed single-vendor technologies do not play well here in O'Reilly country). My afternoon session turns out to be a grueling but satisfyingly information-packed three and-a-hour introduction to E-book formatting specifications and methods. Many of the attendees were sweating or looked pale by quitting time at 5 pm, but we all felt smarter. I was most impressed by Garth Conboy's evangelism for the open EPub format, which seems to be emerging as the much-needed industry-wide digital publishing format. I enjoyed Keith Fahlgren's helpful real-world tips for E-book publishing, as well as his Kindle-bashing. One of the three speakers, Joshua Tallent, was a Kindle expert, and I enjoyed his presentation as well, though it seemed like divine justice for the Kindle's intrinsic isolation model that his presentation on Kindle publishing crashed halfway through. Why? The projector didn't have the Kindle-specific fonts. Ah ha haaa ... anyway, it was a moment of levity that this audience of tech-exhausted publishers and technologists didn't mind.
Tools of Change goes into full swing tomorrow with presentations by Bob Stein, Jeff Jarvis, Cory Doctorow, Laurel Touby, Kassia Krozser and Jason Epstein.
2. Chasing Ray tells us about a children's book about Gertrude Stein, Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter.
3. Bad news in the magazine biz as a major distributor ceases operations.
4. Are the creators of Twitter living in the last Dreamworld?.
5. Three Percent is getting angry about funding cuts.
6. Will Self ponders W. G. Sebald.
7. Let xkcd explain the mysterious base system. Funny.
8. Like many a Long Island kid, I grew up listening to Jackie Martling on Bob Buchmann's morning show on WBAB. He was always terrible, but in a really good way.
9. My old boss's boss Walter Isaacson has written a rather surprising article about micropayments for online content, and he's on Jon Stewart right now speaking about this same proposal. There may be long-term possibilities here, and I like it that Isaacson is thinking outside the box. However, his proposal lacks immediate appeal, especially since online advertising remains a perfectly viable support system for many content websites. If Isaacson thinks this idea is ready to take off right now, I think he may be reading too many books by Bruce Judson (but that's an inside Pathfinder joke).
10. Saturday night's benefit for humanitarian aid in Gaza at McNally Jackson was a surprisingly moving event, featuring readings from Mary Morris, Wesley Brown, Alix Kates Shulman, Elizabeth Strout, Dawn Raffel, Melody Moezzi, Beverly Gologorsky, Chuck Wachtel, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Robert Reilly, Jan Clausen, Barbara Schneider and Humerea Afridi, and I was proud to be a part of it. I also heard an exciting update from organizer Leora Skolkin-Smith (reading, below), whose novel Edges: O Israel O Palestine will soon begin film production in (remarkably enough) Jerusalem and Jordan. Tools of change? We can hope.
I've been reading about various literary film adaptations lately -- Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Spirit, even a possible new Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrmann. This onslaught caused me to flash back to a vintage Mad Magazine comic (originally published before I was born, but available in countless reprints such as these). Here are the great Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis riffing on what happens when a book becomes a movie. First, we see the opening segment from their hypothetical novel:
And here's how the corresponding movie made from the novel starts:
Dash blast the gosh darned blankety heck! It's well known that the Kurtzman-era Mad comics of the 50s were among the high points of 20th Century civilization. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much better than Book! Movie! by Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis from Mad #13, July 1954.
1. I recently visited a gallery in downtown New York to see Malcolm McNeill's Ah Pook Is Here, a vast, never-published collaboration with William S. Burroughs. McNeill was a young graphic artist coming up in swinging 1960s London when a magazine called Cyclops asked him to illustrate a comic strip for a Burroughs text called The Unspeakable Mr. Hart. McNeill and Burroughs had never met when this piece was published, but Burroughs sought out the artist who'd captured his uncanny likeness in the work, suggesting they collaborate on an ambitious project called Ah Pook Is Here.
Apparently based on the legend of Ah Puch, the Mayan God of Death, Ah Pook is Here is as inscrutable as any Burroughs text, and features many signature Burroughs tropes -- mob scenes, strange societies, contrasting urban and jungle environments, omnisexual beings. It's a fascinating and attractive work, and I enjoyed chatting with the artist at the show. I asked him what it all meant, and he replied that he found the meaning of the work within his long and happy friendship with the late Burroughs (whose visage seems to appear in various places within the collection's many pieces). Malcolm McNeill, who stresses that he does his work in physical media rather than Photoshop, bristled when I asked which comic artists had inspired him. "I don't see this as comic art," he said, instead citing Hieronymus Bosch and Francis Bacon as key influences. See for yourself at the Saloman Arts Gallery in downtown Manhattan till December 14.
2. Belgian artist Guy Peellaert of Rock Dreams and Diamond Dogs fame has died.
3. Slavoj Zizek says "Use Your Illusions" in the London Review of Books:
"The reason Obama's victory generated such enthusiasm is not only that, against all odds, it really happened: it demonstrated the possibility of such a thing happening. The same goes for all great historical ruptures -- think of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although we all knew about the rotten inefficiency of the Communist regimes, we didn't really believe that they would disintegrate -- like Kissinger, we were all victims of cynical pragmatism. Obama's victory was clearly predictable for at least two weeks before the election, but it was still experienced as a surprise."
4. Whose illusion? It's hilarious that authorities in China are protesting the new Guns 'n' Roses album Chinese Democracy, seeing the title as a call for Western-style democracy in their nation. Who ever looks to Axl Rose for insights into global politics? In case anybody's wondering, the title appears to be a self-mocking comparison to Chairman Mao's totalitarean leadership style (Mao used to claim, against all evidence, that China was a democracy). Axl Rose has kicked every other member of Guns 'n' Roses out, and apparently "Chinese democracy" is the only kind of democracy anyone should expect within Guns 'n' Roses now that Chairman Axl is in charge. As for the long-awaited record itself, I think it's pretty good, though I need to give it a few more listens before I reach a conclusive decision.
5. 50 Cent's The Money and the Power is probably the meanest reality show competition ever. Instead of "The tribe has spoken" or "You're fired", 50's (bleeped) exit line is "Get the fuck outta here". You know I'm a fool for good reality TV shows, and so far this is one of the good ones.
6. Carolyn Kellogg admires Johnny Rotten's excellent autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, recently reissued by Picador.
7. I didn't know there was a poetry series, "Poems and Pints", at historic Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan's financial district. We already missed Paul Muldoon and Mark Strand, but there's still time to catch Dana Goodyear, Katy Lederer, Sharon Olds and many others.
8. Bob Holman and Papa Susso on the Griot Trail in West Africa.
9. The complete Allan Sherman boxed set.
10. A dead Shakespearean makes his stage debut ... as Yorick.
1. MILTON MARATHON! At St. Olaf College (and yes, the name does make me think of Rose from The Golden Girls; I can't help it), a professor led a straight-through reading of Paradise Lost. The article says, "Milton is not as boring as you think. Paradise Lost has something for everyone: Hot but innocent sex! (You thought Adam and Eve spent all their time in Eden gardening?) Descriptions of hellfire that would make The Lord of the Rings' archfiend, Sauron, weep with envy! Epic battles, with angels hurling mountains at their demonic foes! This is edge-of-your-seat material." And it's very true. Milton is not as boring as you think. I mean it. Milton is my homeboy.
2. Terry Eagleton reviews a Wittgenstein biography.
3. I don't agree with Richard Dawkins about many things, but I get his point. However, as I was digging through some RSS feeds to bring you thrilling links, I came across this one: Harry Potter fails to cast spell over Professor Richard Dawkins. From the article: "The prominent atheist is stepping down from his post at Oxford University to write a book aimed at youngsters in which he will warn them against believing in 'anti-scientific' fairytales." I can't help but picture this in my head as Richard Dawkins surrounded by crying children as he explains that Santa Claus isn't real. In my head, it goes like this: "IT'S YOUR PARENTS!" he yells as the children wail and vow to hate science as long as they live.
4. I wish I could bring myself not to be bored nearly to death by Camille Paglia, but I'm not sure that will ever happen. In any case, she goes on and on and on about how she selected the poems for her book Break, Blow, Burn (which came out in hardcover in 2005). Whee.
5. Ever wanted to know what it's like to be a freelance term paper writer? You're in luck.
6. On the release of his book Why We Suck, Heather Havrilesky interviews Denis Leary. From the introduction to the interview: "Leary called from his home in New York City to talk with Salon about George Carlin's legacy, the culture of permissive parenting and the controversy surrounding his book. Far from the violent frat boy he portrays on his show, Leary not only referred to himself as a "dyed-in-the-wool Democrat" but said that he considers himself a feminist. Still, he insisted that if no one is pissed off, that means he's not doing his job."
7. Misery memoirs: they sell by the millions, but could their day in the spotlight be coming to an end?
8. On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition prompts an annotated slideshow.
9. The Five Most Obnoxious Literary Fads. I nodded at some of this (The Da Vinci Code hatred, for instance), but even though I know I wouldn't be able to read one now without wanting to throw it out of the window of a moving vehicle, I really liked the Sweet Valley High books. When I was 11. (Also I've never read a single word of anything having to do with Harry Potter.)
10. Of Bibiophilia and Bibioclasm: hurrah for secondhand books.
1. If you grew up ordering slim paperbacks in school from Scholastic Book Services, you'll enjoy this Flickr set as much as I do (via).
2. Neil Young has written an article for the Huffington Post about how the Detroit auto industry can radically alter its corporate culture by embracing green innovation. Young is clearly a transportation freak -- aside from his work with Lionel Trains and Linc Volt, he also once wrote "Long May You Run", a sweet love song about a favorite car. But I get the biggest kick out of the simple fact that Neil Young has written an article for the Huffington Post.
3. Judith Fitzgerald of Books Inq., responding to an apt appreciation by Billy Collins of a new Dylan publication, says that Leonard Cohen is a better poet than Bob Dylan. Levi Asher says Judith Fitzgerald has got to be kidding. Leonard Cohen wrote "Bird on a Wire" and maybe two other good songs. The album Blood on the Tracks alone outdoes Cohen's entire career. A midget can't play basketball with a giant.
4. "Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons found that doctors interacting with literature were more willing to adopt another person’s perspective, sometimes after just four one-hour workshops." I believe it. More here.
5. A 4th Century Greek joke book anticipates Monty Python's dead parrot sketch. But what about the cheese shop?
6. OUP Blog presents William Irvine on desire, a topic of infinite mystery.
7. The Millions remembers Liar's Poker.
8. Neil Young is writing about cars, and Lexus is sponsoring original fiction. Participants include Curtis Sittenfeld and Jane Smiley. The collaborative novel's visual layout is a little too "Lexus" for my tastes, but the experiment is worth a look.
9. Joan Didion is writing a film for HBO about Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, who will forever be remembered as the subject of a Watergate-era John Mitchell prediction that didn't come true.
10. I caught PBS's broadcast of Filth, about 1960s British decency advocate Mary Whitehouse, last night. Very well done, and quite even-handed. (Note: the fact that I am praising the show has nothing to do with PBS buying a Filth blog ad on LitKicks, and the fact that I watched the show has everything to do with the fact that Roger Waters sang about Mary Whitehouse on Pink Floyd's Animals).
11. Wonkette is a good political website, but they clearly know nothing about The Godfather. Nobody told Tessio (Abe Vigoda) that he was going to Las Vegas before killing him on the way to the airport -- that was Carlo Rizzo. Jeez.
Yeah, I got my hands on a real-life Amazon Kindle e-book reader for a few minutes. Did I "feel the power"? Hell no. The physical packaging reminds me of the Coleco Adam. I tried to read a story by P. G. Wodehouse and I felt like I was playing Pong.
The physical button interface is clumsy, but my main gripe with the Kindle has to do with market strategy: I believe Amazon should sell electronic books that play on a wide variety of popular devices, not a single overpriced dedicated device. When I first wrote on LitKicks that e-books won't succeed until we can read them on iPhones and Blackberries, several of you disagreed, but I think the success of a new iPhone reader called the Stanza is proving me right.
This leaves me, though, with a problem. I was originally going to get an iPhone but I didn't want to switch carriers or set my alarm clock to wait in line at the Apple Store, so I never got an iPhone. Instead, I'm rocking a Verizon LG Dare which is basically an iPhone wannabe, and I like the phone fine except it won't run Stanza. I hope the folks at Lexcycle are working on a few non-iPhone ports please ...
2. Check out Tina Brown's The Daily Beast, which features worthy contributors like Maud Newton and Rachel Maddow. At first glance the Beast appears to want to be an East coast version of Huffington Post, and since I like the Huff, I think that's just fine. The site will need to shake out a few tech things -- can we have author names in the RSS feed, please? -- but it appears to be off to a great start.
3. Andrew Gallix at the Guardian asks: whatever happened to the creative potential of digital literature? Good question. I have a bit to say about this, but it will wait for a post of its own.
4. While we're talking tech, I haven't had a chance to check Google's Book API out but I have a feeling this idea has long term potential.
5. Bat Segundo goes the distance in a feisty interview with the great film director Mike Leigh, whose latest character study is called Happy Go Lucky.
6. Bill Ectric interviews Ekaterina Sedia, author of the novel The Secret History of Moscow.
7. A linguistic study of Blog Speak (via Sully)
8. Tina Fey is writing a book! Will she reach the heights of other truly literary comedian-humorists like Groucho Marx, Robert Benchley, Woody Allen and Steve Martin? Well, she hasn't let us down yet.
9. Heaven-Sent Leaf is a new book of poetry by Katy Lederer, author of Poker Face. Poker and poetry have been a good combination since, at least, A. Alvarez.
10. A YouTube recording of a true castrato. Quite disturbing to listen to. Click through and you'll see what I mean.
11. I didn't get much of a response, folks, to my probing questions about Henry David Thoreau and the economy. Let's yak it up in the outfield, people! Really. I didn't think you were the types to get scared away by classic literature so easily (I know you can yak it up plenty when the topic is, say, Sarah Palin). So, the next round in our "Big Thinking" series will be about our public political dialogue, and our special guest writer will be Ludwig Wittgenstein. Tune in tomorrow evening when the fun begins.
2. I wrote a few days ago that "language was George Carlin's playpen", and the quotes I've heard and videos I've watched since then have reinforced this idea for me. Here's a line from the characteristically good New York Times obituary:
“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth"
That's William S. Burroughs territory right there.
3. Young transgressive author Tony O'Neill met guitarist Slash and comedy director John Landis at Book Expo LA. That's even better than a tote bag full of foam animals, pens, buttons and frisbees.
4. Congratulations to blogger Lizzie Skurnick on a book deal! And if From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is involved, all the better.
5. Via Elegant, Prufrock meets Portishead.