There's a popular misunderstanding that big bonuses were a symptom of the problem at companies like Lehman Brothers and Citibank and AIG. In fact these bonuses were not a symptom but a cause of the problem. How can a financier justify a seven-figure salary/bonus every year? Not with honest investment in honest business, not year after year -- that's not how honest business works. The system of hedge funds and risk management and credit default swaps grew to support the illusion that high finance could produce infinite wealth and infinite growth, and this system was not rotten at the edges but rotten to the core. A bank or insurance company that pays large numbers of employees millions of dollars a year will inevitably have to resort to deceptive or dishonest practices to maintain that excessive level of reward.
Personally, my private prescription for our sick economy can be found in the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. But it's hard to translate this into public policy, so on a more practical level what I want is strong permanent salary caps for executives who manage companies our government considers "too big to fail". If they're too big to fail, then they're too big to be entrusted to high-rollers with dollar signs in their eyes.
2. I've been spending a lot of time in Washington DC lately, and may have to miss PEN World Voices in New York City this year. If so, I'll be missing a really good lineup including Paul Auster, Lou Reed, Muriel Barbery, Mark Danielewski, Neil Gaiman, Paul Krugman, Michael Ondaatje, Parker Posey (?) (okay), Francine Prose, Laila Lalami, Esther Allen, Daniel Mendelsohn, Jonathan Ames, Roxana Robinson, Niall Ferguson, John Freeman, Richard Ford,Wesley (John Wesley Harding) Stace, Philip Gourevitch, Lynne Tillman, Bob Holman, A. M. Homes and a whole lot of international authors I've barely or never heard of but would probably benefit from hearing from. If you can go to this, I urge you to do so.
3. Speaking of Thoreau: "Henry David Thoreau is one of those authors that readers think they know, even if they don’t." I agree with that. I haven't yet seen Robert Sullivan's The Thoreau You Don't Know, but the basic idea as described on this website sounds good to me.
4. According to GalleyCat, Robert Crumb's next masterwork will be an illustrated Book of Genesis.
5. I'm the kind of guy whose idea of fun is to sit around talking about the meaning of postmodernism (which I feel I understand perfectly). But this article by Andrew Seal (via Scott Esposito, who liked it) is terribly written: At any rate, de Onís also theorized a bifurcation in the set of reactions to modernism: 'postmodernismo' was "a conservative reflux within modernism itself: one which sought refuge from its formidable lyrical challenge in a muted perfectionism of detail and ironic humour, whose most original feature was the newly authentic expression it afforded women" (4). Postmodernism was a fading light, however, to be succeeded quickly by 'ultramodernismo', its opposite, an intensification of "the radical impulses of modernism to a new pitch" (ibid.) Anderson returns frequently to this basic division. That ain't postmodern.
6. Bob Dylan's new album is apparently inspired by the fiction of Larry Brown, an author I've never read. I best get reading.
7.. Appreciating Edgar Keret.
8. I got your Wild Things right here.
1. The e-book scene (also known as the d-book scene, if you read Booksquare) is buzzing again with news of Amazon's new iPhone Kindle application, which allows readers to enjoy the considerable benefits of the Kindle store without buying a bulky and expensive dedicated device.
Does this mean I'm going to brag yet again that I was among the first to attempt to point Amazon in this exact direction, even though everybody thought I was crazy at the time? Yes, it certainly does. It also means that I can stop beefing with Amazon.com, a company I used to like until Jeff Bezos started trying to be Steve Jobs. Some will still beef with Amazon/Kindle over DRM, but there's no doubt Amazon is moving in the right direction by allowing Kindle books to run on non-Amazon devices.
Meanwhile, the dumb, dumb articles about how e-books are ruining everything just keep coming (this one via Frank, who shares my derision). What is wrong with these people? At least one minor miracle takes place within Sven Birkerts piece: he doesn't tell us he loves the way books smell.
2. Like Mark Sarvas, I used to mill around the Librarie de France bookstore in Rockefeller Center (though unlike Mark Sarvas, I don't read French). This small store was a nice worldly touch for midtown Manhattan and I'm very sorry to hear that it will be closing this
3. Was Ludwig Wittgenstein really the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century? I think he was, assuming that William James belongs to the 19th Century, and many others think so too.
4. Via Largehearted Boy, a long list of fictional computers.
5. How Jeff Kinney and his Wimpy Kid made it big.
6. Roxana Robinson, inspired by a mockingbird's call.
7. Literature as an alternative to traditional incarceration.
8. NPR on Carlo Collodi's original Pinocchio. And let's also pay good attention to Kanye's personal spin on Collodi's tale.
9. I do not have high hopes for a movie based on Beverly Cleary's Ramona The Pest, one of the books I loved most as a kid. What do you want to bet they'll screw up the big Halloween parade scene and leave out the Q's with the cat tails?
10. Jamelah gets framed.
11. Another Bret Easton Ellis movie is heading our way.
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.
At Conversations in the Book Trade, blogger Levi Asher is interviewed; he does less than well, I'd say. He claims that 'There is no decline in reading,' that electronic content 'will soon dominate the publishing field' and argues 'You can see a movie or download a record album for about ten bucks. That's the correct price point. New books come out with price tags between $24 and $30 and then they wonder why the whole industry is suffering. Somebody's out of touch with the consumer here . . .' He's been banging this expensive drum for a while. Put the first assertion and the last together, and try to make some sense of it in the context of every reputable study being done that shows a decline in reading in America; Levi is either fooling himself or trying to will the world into the image of his choosing. Aside from that, the average price of a CD in 2008 was $12.95 so Britney Spears' album was that price; the equivalent of Ms. Spears would be, say, a Grisham novel, and The Innocent Man (2007) has a list price of $7.99 in softcover. Newer and less popular albums cost more, as it is with books. Hardcovers are pricey, and for a smaller market, but books are not generally too expensive. And as long as used books are $3.00 or so, and the library is free, digital readers are still a ways off.
Not so quick there, Daniel. First, a Britney Spears CD costs $12.95 when it's new. A John Grisham novel costs between $24 and $30 when it's new and getting media attention, and then drops in price a full year later, after reviewers and award committees have forgotten the book exists. This self-defeating "buzz-kill" effect doesn't exist in music publishing or any other industry -- in fact, some music publishers wisely release CDs at reduced prices to increase their chances of building audience momentum. Movie tickets cost slightly more when a movie is brand new, but the difference is small relative to the total price. Sorry, Dan, but you're wrong on this one.
Also, there is no contradiction between my first point that reading remains widely popular and my second point that the mainstream/corporate publishing industry is suffering. "Reading" and "publishing industry product" are not the same thing. The literary publishing industry in the USA is clearly unable to find the right format and price point to appeal to consumers, and consumers are increasingly bypassing the mainstream/corporate publishing industry's preferred formats for this reason. Does that mean we're not reading? Hell no, hell no, hell no!
According to Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, quoting a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers:
Adult hardcover sales were down 10.3 percent in December and down 13 percent for the year, but adult paperbacks saw a 12.5 percent increase in sales for the month and a 3.6 percent increase for the year. Adult mass market sales, though, are reported as down 3.0 percent for the year, and we can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with the 68.4 percent increase in electronic book sales in 2008 and certain genre reading tastes.
See what I'm saying, Daniel? Sorry, but I'm claiming myself as the victor in this argument. And there's plenty of good stuff happening on the affordable paperback books front -- see my recent post about Jason Epstein and the Espresso Book Machine.
2. A superb recent Words Without Borders panel discussion featuring Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago on Don Quixote reminded me how much I'd enjoyed Edith Grossman's translation (it's not like I've read any other translation, but you know what I mean) of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. The film version of this great novel recently turned up on a cable channel and I sat through it. Awful, horrible, seriously not good.
3. A few favorite literary New York City personalities have been releasing good new stuff lately. The spooky and moody East Village presence known as Edgar Oliver, whose written and theatrical works I've enjoyed in the past, got a great review from Ben Brantley of the New York Times for his East 10th Street: Self-Portrait With Empty House. Poet Simon Pettet has a new book out, Hearth. And, here's the YouTube debut of New Jersey poet Eliot Katz reading his poem "Death and War".
4. Some cool new Poe graphics via Books Are People Too (yes they are).
5. Poet W. S. Merwin on Design Observer: Unchopping a Tree
6. I was admonished via email to pay more attention to independent bookstores and link to Indiebound.org. I'm not as obsessed with indie bookstores vs. chain bookstores as some other book-lovers are for two reasons: I'm allergic to cats, and Barnes and Noble/Borders restrooms can sometimes really come in handy. Still, I'm down with the cause.
7. This just sucks: the Times Square Virgin Records mega-store (which also had good restrooms, and a basement bookstore!) is closing down. Shea Stadium, now this.
8. Katharine Weber at Readerville: Dear J. D. Salinger.
9. Nigeness contemplates The Wine-Dark Sea.
10. John Updike, cartoonist fanboy.
11. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
12. Daniel Scott Buck's The Kissing Bug gets some 3:AM praise.
13. Barnes and Noble review gets visual with Ward Sutton.
14. Dan Green's literary blog The Reading Experience has launched the blog equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, TRE Prime.
15. I'm looking forward to Summertime, apparently the next J. M. Coetzee novel. When Coetzee writes about summertime, you can just bet the living will not be easy.
16. The Shirley Jackson Awards committee is holding a lottery. Though they picked the wrong month -- remember: "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
17. Via Q-Tip The Abstract, of all people, this Mars Volta performance on David Letterman is something special.
1. The Washington Post's Sunday literary supplement Book World is indeed being discontinued. I'll have something to say about this in my weekend write-up of the New York Times Book Review, aka "Last One Standing".
2. Dostoevskaya Station (not in St. Petersburg but in Moscow).
3. Can you read with music? When I was a kid, I always read with music on. Now I prefer not to.
4. A surprisingly good map of heavy metal band names.
5. Grace Paley: the Film
6. Stanley Kubrick wanted to make a Holocaust film.
7. Archie Andrews of Riverdale. You know who I'm talking about.
8. Mad Magazine is going quarterly. Hmm.
9. I'm going to be participating in a Israel/Gaza peace/aid event at McNally Jackson bookstore in New York City on Saturday, February 7. More on this soon ...
10. John "Jim" Krasinski's David Foster Wallace Brief Interviews with Hideous Men film debuted at Sundance! Very cool.
11. Richard Brautigan's great short novel In Watermelon Sugar is now a dance.
12. Does literary fiction suffer from dysfunctional pricing?
13. The mysterious etymology of Oh Snap.
14. The last is definitely not the least: Kurt Vonnegut Motivational Posters.
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 attended a preview screening of Revolutionary Road, the new Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio film based on a highly regarded 1961 novel by Richard Yates, along with a few friends who'd all loved the Richard Yates novel. They all hated the movie. Myself, I haven't read the novel yet, so I can tell you how the film stands on its own. (I'm also reading the novel right now, so I may sound off on this topic again once I finish.)
Revolutionary Road is the tragedy of a marriage that starts off shaky and ends worse. Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio play two earnest and artistic New Yorkers who find themselves living a conformist lifestyle in a fashionable Connecticut suburb (with a street called Revolutionary Road) even though they have strong Bohemian yearnings and can't stand their neighbors. The only neighbor they like -- in one of the film's best scenes -- is a literal madman, played by Michael Shannon, in whom they find a kindred alienated spirit.
The fiesty lovers fight constantly, humor and ignore their children, dream of solving their problems by moving to Paris, all the while descending into greater and greater miseries. I can see why my friends who are familiar with Yates's novel consider the movie a simplistic and commercial betrayal of the source material, but even so, the film packs a punch. It's a bleak and unblinking stare at a troubled modern family, and Kate Winslet's performance helps carry the message. Leo DiCaprio, unfortunately, still can't act -- he sure can emote and yell, and he has a craggy face you could carve into Mount Rushmore -- but he can't act. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is also fond of an artificial and histrionic style of acting (Winslet somehow manages to appear natural even in Mendes's hands), and it's frustrating to realize how much better this film could have worked in subtler hands.
Yet Revolutionary Road is worth catching, if only to see the stars of Titanic gloriously reunited. I was surprised that the preview audience didn't gasp during the scene where Kate Winslet fingers a brochure for the Cunard Cruise Line as she makes plans to sail with her family across the Atlantic Ocean. Once again, Kate and Leo don't make it to the other side.
2. The new Pal Joey ended up getting trashed in the New York Times. I think the show deserves a more sympathetic review, even with its many problems. It's still about a hundred times better than Little Mermaid or Legally Blonde.
3. Maud Newton introduces Iceberg, an exciting new iPhone e-book approach pioneered by ScrollMotion. In other e-book news (and there seems to be a lot of e-book news lately), Project Gutenberg is going mobile.
4. Heartbroke Daily is about one writer's persistent lovesickness.
5. I told you last week that I am going to begin an extensive writing project here on LitKicks in January. I first conceived this as a book idea, but since I am already working with an agent on a different book proposal I am going to begin writing this one right here on LitKicks in occasional blog-post segments, not necessarily chronological, and I will continue until I either tell the entire story or decide to stop.
The story is about me, specifically about my work in the internet industry in the last fifteen years. I have seen a lot -- and survived a lot -- since launching LitKicks in 1994 and leaving my job in the financial software industry to work for Time Warner's first internet startup in 1995. In the years to follow I became a spoken-word poet, helped to launch one of the web's first advertising networks, insulted Bill Gates in person, published a book, built BobDylan.com, drank too many martinis, became a paper millionaire, went completely broke, got a divorce, watched my kids grow up, endured a year's employment in what must have been one of the most dysfunctional technology departments in the history of mankind (at A&E Network/History Channel), fell in love, and found a new footing online in the age of blogs and Web 2.0. I watched the birth of the dot-com industry, the birth of Yahoo, the birth of Amazon, the birth of Java, the birth of XML, the birth of Google, the death of the Pets.com sock puppet, and the incredible hair of Rod Blagojevich (okay, Blagojevich's hair isn't in the book, but everything else is).
I have been burning to tell some of these stories for a long time, and I hope to do so in a way that is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. I'm not a big Ernest Hemingway fan, but my method in telling this story will be to follow his advice in what must have been one of his best lines: "Write the truest sentence you know."
Truth? That's a tall order, but these stories need to be told. Some former Silicon Alley colleagues of mine may not like some of the things I'll say. Hell, I may not like some of the things I'll say. But in my opinion the only reason to write a memoir (James Frey notwithstanding) is that you want to tell the truth, and that's exactly what I plan to do. I hope you'll check out the first installment, which should appear just after New Years Day.
We'll be closing down (and putting up our annual Action Poetry retrospective) between Christmas and New Years. Yesterday I posted a video from Godspell, and in the same spirit, here's an even better random video I found on YouTube, an extremely intense version of Gethsemane from a Peruvian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This is my idea of a good Christmas video. Enjoy, and see you in January!
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.
Diane Kurys has directed a film biography of rebellious French writer Francoise Sagan, titled simply Sagan. Perhaps inspired by the success of La Vie En Rose, a recent biopic of Edith Piaf, the new film stars Sylvie Testud (who played Piaf’s friend in La Vie en Rose), and follows the story of Francoise Sagan from the publication of her first book to her final days in Normandy.
Francoise Quoirez –- she took the nom de plume Sagan after the Princesse de Sagan, a character in Marcel Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu –- grew up in a moneyed family, first in Lyon, and then in Paris. An indifferent student, she was nonetheless fascinated by literature. Her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published when she was barely nineteen years old. Bonjour Tristesse caused an immediate scandal in France, but despite the outrage of the bourgeoisie it climbed to the top of the bestseller lists. Sagan became a fixture on the French literary scene, known for her reckless lifestyle: drinking, drugs, fast sports cars, and gambling, and for her advocacy of sexual freedom in contrast to the traditional mores of France.