I've been working hard, and I really need this three-day weekend coming my way. Hell yeah!
Another surprise guest will be writing this weekend's review of the New York Times Book Review. Check back on Sunday for, I hope, a wholly new perspective.
Till then, just a few links for a happy Spring day.
1. I've always thought Henry David Thoreau's Walden could be the basis of a great play or film. Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence (Inherit the Wind) tried something like this with The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, though this play did not place the center of action in the cabin by the pond. A new play called Walden: the Ballad of Thoreau is making the rounds, and may be showing up on public television/radio as well as on stages around the world.
I don't know anything about this actual play, but I know it's a good idea. A lot of drama took place in that little cabin, and I hope this play captures the essence of the work as well as it should. I assume that the actors in the image above are portraying Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau.
2. Fordham University in Manhattan (NOT, as previously reported, Fordham's campus in the Bronx) will be hosting "Woolf and the City", a Virginia Woolf conference, featuring insights from Anne Fernald, Roxana Robinson and many others.
3. Also at Fordham, Ron Hogan and the Mercantile Library have put together quite a lineup for a fiction writer's conference.
4. The long-anticipated film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's novel Edges now has a title and a website. I thought Edges was a fine name for a story about Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine, but the film will be called The Fragile Mistress, and that sounds fine too. Can't wait to see this one.
5. A website about the psychology of fiction. Oh, is that ever fertile territory ...
MT Cozzola is a Chicago-based screenwriter, playwright, and actress, and a native of Oak Park, Illinois (the hometown of Ernest Hemingway). She has written the screenplay for the film Eye of the Sandman, which will appear in theatres in Fall 2009. Eye of the Sandman is adapted from a short story entitled The Sandman by German writer E.T.A Hoffman. I spoke with MT at the Cafe Neo in the shadow of the El tracks on Lincoln Avenue.
Michael: So, MT, I’ve read the script of The Eye of the Sandman. How did you get the idea to do the film, and where did you find the story that you adapted the screenplay from?
MT: Actually the project came about before the story. A producer, Dave Evans, wanted to do a horror film, and he approached me and two other directors, Jeff McHale and Dennis Belogorsky, about collaborating on a horror film. We tossed around some ideas, some serious ideas, some comedic ideas, and Dave was really interested in this story The Sandman, the E.T.A Hoffman story, and we all read that. He talked with another screen writer, who did a very serious treatment of the story. It wasn’t getting any traction –- it was interesting, but not something we were really interested in. So we started talking about other ideas, and doing more of a comedy. And I really loved the story, and I thought there was a lot of humor in it. Although it can be looked at as a very serious story, and there's definitely some scary imagery and there's serious themes in it, I thought that there's also a lot of humor in it. There's even that line at the end after the poor hero falls to his death, and the writer says something about how his poor bereaved fiancee shortly thereafter met someone else and is now living very happily with a big family -- so that's pretty funny. Anyway, I took a stab at just taking the elements from the story that I found interesting, that idea of obsessions and seeing in an object of beauty, in this case this man, and sort of pouring everything into him that you think you want in a lover. And believing because of his passivity that your love is returned. I started from there, and I wrote this story. Actually, I wrote the last scene first and then everything kind of fell into place, so then I wrote the opening scene, and then the scenes that happen in the middle, and I brought that to Dave, the producer, and he really liked it and the other directors really liked it. I knew because I was familiar with the production company, that if I wanted to get this made, I needed to give them something that was production-wise very simple. You'll notice that it's a single location ...
MT: Very limited cast, those are all things that ... I think because I was thinking about the production, and I wasn't starting from "if I could tell any story in the world what would it be?", that really worked out well in terms of the idea, but that was also where my focus was initially with the story -- let's really limit this to just a few characters in a single location, and let's put these people together and see what happens. All of the characters in the movie are based on either a character in the story or a suggestion of a character. The main character in the film is a young woman, but she's very much based on the hero of the story, who was a man.
Michael: There was a robot in both stories, as I recall …
MT: Yeah, there's an automaton in the short story, but it was more complicated than the film, because there's the young man's father, and the mysterious Sandman (evil guy) who comes to the house, and then there's another scientist that the young man meets later on in Germany who is the one who actually created the robot. But in my story, the robot was created by the heroine's father and another scientist, and their relationship is very important. So, the elements are all taken from or inspired by the original story but just laid out differently.
Michael: So, the process then, as I understand it, is you took a story that everyone involved in this project was interested in, and you took a crack at giving it some shape, and then you took that back to the producer, and then he said yeah go ahead, and then from there you created a more fully fleshed story ...
MT: Yeah, I think the thing that I gave him was like a treatment with a few scenes broken out, you know, with the opening scene and a couple of interior scenes and an ending scene broken out. In a lot of treatments I've seen ... are you familiar with treatments or what a treatment is?
Michael: No, I'm not, actually.
MT: It's essentially a kind of a detailed synopsis of the entire film. So you might think of each paragraph of a treatment as describing one sequence in a film. So you could write a very concise treatment and say, "Mike goes to the cafe, he finds the murder weapon, the owner doesn't want him to take the weapon but he grabs the weapon and leaves." Then the next paragraph is "Mike is in the car ..." But you could also detail that treatment a little bit more, which I think really helps directors and producers and anybody reading it, and just throw in a little bit of dialogue, so you think of it more as when you're telling someone a story, you know, "Mike goes into the cafe, he finds the murder weapon and the owner says ‘grab it and I cut your head off', but Mike says 'no, I've gotta do this for Julie', and he runs out of there". And like, suddenly, once you insert some dialogue into it, it becomes much more specific and real, and the characters become real, and it's not just this and this and this.
Michael: So it's kind of like when you are trying to pitch a book to somebody -- you have a synopsis -- you don't have the whole thing written but you have a synopsis, and then you kind of walk them through it with a few details, to try to get them interested.
MT: Right, right. You're giving them the flavor, it's not just dry summary. So yes, the treatment I did had a few scenes broken out with full dialog and then other scenes where just this happened and this happened -- that was what I did. And actually, I didn't think they would like it because they were really talking about a serious horror film, and that's just not what I'm into. I'm not a horror film fan, I don't know most of the references -- most of the horror films I've seen are from the 1930s. I don't know Nightmare on Elm Street. So all I could really write was just, like, this is what I'm interested in –- this is what seems fun and interesting to me.
Michael: So after the treatment, the director or producer can either say go ahead write me a screenplay or ...
MT: Or thanks anyway.
Michael: So is there a lot of rejection in film?
MT: [Laughs] it's all rejection!
Michael: So it's like any kind of writing, then, you write and you write and write, and you work and you work and work and ...
MT: ... and no one's interested!
Michael: What's the difference between adapting an existing story, versus writing something new?
MT: For me, when I'm adapting something I'm reacting -- to an idea or something in the story. When I'm creating something new it's more about discovery of a story. Not that there's not a lot of discovery in adaptation but it is your spin, something that you see in another work.
Michael: For a new work, do you start with an idea and let that idea germinate over time and then at some point you feel like you can start writing it down, or ...
MT: I usually start writing right away. I usually figure out what I think through the writing. For me that discovery comes from dialogue. And maybe to some extent I'm influenced by -- maybe that's why I enjoy improvisation, and when I performed more I did a lot of improvisation which is really, you know, discovering through dialogue, and letting something build in that way. I think with writing, even adaptation, it's really letting the characters speak and kind of seeing where they're going and who they are and what's on their mind. And with the Sandman piece I didn't feel bound by the story in any way – because I wasn't using the plot, I didn't have to end up in any particular place. So I could just go with that main character who so clearly has memories that he is not dealing with, and our heroine also -- she has memories that she's not dealing with, she sort of takes all her desire not to deal with what's going on in the present and just project it onto something else, so you just start with that and go wherever, so you have a lot of freedom when you adapt.
Michael: So it sounds like rather than constructing a rather complex plot, you get the characters talking and interacting and then the plot sort of falls in behind? Is that right?
MT: Yeah, especially in the first draft. The first draft is all about the characters and the relationships that develop between them and yeah, you're not so worried about the plot. Then you get through that first draft and you figure out who you've got and do you have something interesting going on. And then maybe in the second draft I focus more on the plot and the structure, and usually the second draft is kind of dry and icky because it's all like "we've got to get to this point!" so you kind of lose something. But then when you get to the third draft that's when things seem to coalesce. There are some things you can do in terms of the plot in that second draft because you know you have to get somewhere, and you write these clunky scenes to get people to the climax and then you come back to that a little while later and it's "this is awful" -- these characters -- you're just using them to get somewhere. So in the third draft you get away from it a little bit, and you come back, and you go –- oh, ok, he's not going to get there this way -- we know he's got to get there, but he's not going to get there this way. So I feel that's it's a three draft process.
Michael: Do you visualize what these characters are going to look like on the screen at this point?
MT: Oh, totally! I see 'em.
Michael: What is the process then that goes from getting a final script to a film -- how does it get from that piece of paper, those pieces of paper, to the screen? Can you describe that process?
MT: [Laughs]. There's a really long winded, rambling answer to that. That's a tough question. Once you know you're on the same page just in terms of the broad concepts. Like with this script -- it's campy but it's serious, too. And I wasn't sure if it would come across to the other directors.
Michael: It's kind of a spoof of a horror story in a way.
MT: Yeah, there are a lot of spoofy references, but it was also important to me that what the characters were going through from their point of view was entirely serious and the stakes were high for them, and they felt this very deeply. So I didn't want a film that was about laughing at the characters. So once it was kind of clear that the other directors were on the same page as I was about that – that they got it -- you sort of trust that they got it. You don't really know until you're actually shooting it. Then there's storyboarding and all of the production planning. Even before we got to storyboarding there was the concept of the art direction, and meeting with the production designer and that's also again where you're creating the world that your going to shoot in, so then things start to come out like "what does this world look like?" So, before storyboarding we talked about production design, talked about costumes, talked a little bit about music, although the music is just now being scored. So we were basically kind of creating the world where this is going to happen. And there was really another stage, preparatory to storyboarding the scenes -- storyboarding is just basically, you know, whether narratively or just by quick sketches, showing how you see a scene being shot -- before storyboarding we had a meeting where we all brought in images, scenes from films we liked and that was a great way of communicating some of the things that are really hard to describe such as how you feel this looks like. And I remember Jeff brought in some scenes from Moulin Rouge and Return to Oz which was a film I'd never seen. I brought in and the adventures of Mr. Toad –- you know The Wind in the Willows, the illustrations, and Fritz Eichenberg engravings of Jane Eyre. So it was all kind of show and tell –- this is kind of the feeling that I have. So we went into storyboarding, and especially when we started out we all brought in our storyboards for a scene, and I found that my ideas visually were a lot lest interesting than Jeff's, because he has much more of a visual eye than I do. And because he is a great editor, he really sees things in sequence so he has a really strong sense of how this shot is going to tie into this shot and where the viewer's eye is going to be and how this will all fall together, whereas I might just have a feeling of I can see this one moment, where he has a more comprehensive vision of an entire scene. So storyboarding was next. And then when it came to the actually shooting, Jeff and Dennis tended to be more focused on things like lighting and composition, and I tended to focus more on the actors and their relationships with each other and their interpretation of the dialogue and the characters. And that worked amazingly well.
Michael: So it's quite a process, then.
MT: It's a really long process.
Michael: You take this thing that's your baby, and you hand it to a bunch of other people, and it turns into something else again.
MT: At least in low budget film making which is [laughs] my world. Which is –- what you really pay for in film making -- that is, large-budget versus low-budget – is time. And on a low-budget film when you're in the situation we were in where we've got this fantastic location to shoot in and we've got these wonderful actors; we don't have a ton of money to spend on sets and costumes but we have wonderful designers, we've got everything that we need, but what we don't have is time. Every day we have an assistant director who has a schedule for tomorrow. And at 9:00 we're shooting this shot, and at 9:40 we need to move on to this shot, and at 10:10 we need to move on to this shot. So all of a sudden the limitation of time means that you may have this image in your head or this thing that you want and it may not happen. You might not have time to get the thing that you want. So you're constantly battling with the clock. And depending on the kind of person you are it can be really easy to say "just screw it, let's just get the shot and move on", because you're feeling all this pressure. And that I think is the most challenging part of this work.
Michael: To turn in something really good under a really tight time constraint.
MT: Yeah. And it's really hard on the actors. Because they're waiting around all day while you're doing other scenes, and then it's like come on and do this death scene. And you have to do it in 20 minutes because you've gotta get it, because the light's going or whatever. That's one thing, while working in theatre has its own limitations, I don't think that there's that fear of the clock like there is in filmmaking.
Michael: How long did it take to make the film.
MT: I think we had 22 shooting days total ...
Michael: So from the script to the final cut, how long did it take?
MT: [Laughs] Forever! I turned in the script in June of 2007. Principal photography was October-November 2007. The film sat almost all of 2008. We had a music video sequence to shoot, but we couldn't shoot this until the song was written -- it was an original song -- so we spent the first half of 2008 getting the song written and recorded -- so we shot the music video in July of 2008 and then things sat around some more while Jeff finished editing another film. The rough cut of the film was just finished last month, in February. So we're just now looking at some composers -- there are a handful of composers that have just submitted a workup of a particular scene, to kind of say "here's what I would do with the soundtrack." And so we're looking at those now and choosing a composer. And although we have a rough edit there's been no audio correction, no color correction, there's a lot of tweaking to be done, that'll happen at the same time as we continue to work with the composer. And then the film is coming out in September this year. So 2 1/2 years from June of 2007 to Fall 2009.
Michael: It's a long time, but there were a lot of gaps.
MT: Yeah, there were a lot of gaps in 2008.
Michael: So where will this play? Where will be the venues for it? Just in the Chicago area?
MT: They'll premier it in Chicago, at a local theatre. We're booked for the last week of October at the Center on Halsted, and I don't know if that's the premiere or if there will be screenings somewhere else before that. Split Pillow has also premiered stuff at Chicago Filmmakers and the Gene Siskel Film Center, so I'll be curious to see how that rolls out. Anyway, it will be one or more local theatres here, and then they will try to get it into festivals and seek a wider distribution for it. I think the process is local showings, then hopefully festival distribution, theatre distribution, and ultimately DVD distribution, so it becomes available through places like NetFlix.
Michael: So eventually, October 2009 this year, we can see it at a venue here, and if it's a huge hit, it will spread!
MT: That ... Yeah!
1. Japanese search parties have found the remains of poet and volcano enthusiast Craig Arnold, who had been running a blog called The Volcano Pilgrim. Jacket Copy's piece on Craig's death is the best of many I've read.
Nobody needs to wonder why a poet would love volcanoes; the metaphorical appeal is obvious. The word "volcano" is itself literary, evoking the Roman god Vulcan (the Greek god Hephaestus). Then there's Malcolm Lowry, and Susan Sontag, and let's not forget that the San Francisco beatniks hung out in a North Beach bar called Vesuvio.
Some might disagree with me, but I don't think it's exactly tragic when a poet who passionately loves volcanoes dies exploring a volcano. It's tragic if a poet who loves volcanoes dies of cancer, or catches a stray bullet during a liquor store robbery, or kills himself in a moment of desperate depression. For a poet to die in courageous pursuit of his greatest dream and fascination does not seem tragic in the same way.
(The homemade volcano photo above was found here).
2. Las Vegas Sun maps the Seven Deadly Sins to the states and counties of USA.
3. Keith Gessen gets himself into trouble reporting on an election in Russia.
4. "While the publishing industry chases the new, the young, the instantly commercial, readers are often looking for something else -- for a kind of enduring quality." Agreed. Reissed jazz-age classics from Bloomsbury.
5. Wyatt Mason invokes Emerson.
6. Bill Gates's father is writing a book called Showing Up For Life.
7. 25 Microchips that shook the world.
8. To embarrass is to block, to em-bar.
9. How George Orwell was feeling (hint: not good) while he wrote 1984.
10. Literature and classic rock (I used to try to maintain a list something like this, but haven't kept it up to date).
11. Why does everything Bret Easton Ellis writes get turned into a movie?
12. Anne Waldman on why chapbooks matter.
13. Carly Kocurek, a smart young writer from Texas who used to contribute to LitKicks as "violet9ish", is one of the authors represented in Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket by Elizabeth Englehardt.
14. I get interviewed by Mike Palecek at New American Dream. I like it that Mike asks questions like "Are UFO's real?" instead of the usual stuff about e-books and blogs.
1. According to Rolling Stone, Gus Van Sant's film version of Tom Wolfe's 60s-culture classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test will start shooting soon, and may feature Jack Black (bad idea) or Woody Harrelson (slightly better) as novelist and psychological adventurer Ken Kesey. Woody Harrelson might actually make more sense in the role of Beat legend Neal Cassady, who drove the bus called Further during the real-life cross-country journey chronicled in Wolfe's book. He seems too old to play then-young Ken Kesey in this story, while Jack Black would have to severely rein in his comic instincts to avoid overpowering the role. I hope Gus Van Sant knows what he's doing here.
2. Meanwhile, George Murray of BookNinja gives a hopeful nod to Steve Jacobs' soon-to-be-released film version of J. M. Coetzee's powerful Disgrace, starring John Malkovich.
3. A Bertrand Russell comic? Okay, though Russell was mostly bested by his star student Ludwig Wittgenstein.
4. The story of William Warder Norton, founder of the influential book publishing firm that bears his name.
5. Philip K. Dick and Jack Spicer.
6. Denis Johnson's newest novel is called Nobody Move.
7. The earlist known dust jacket for a book has been found.
8. New Directions has a blog.
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.