It's not who we are, it's what we like

In High Fidelity, we were analyzed by our musical tastes. Now Nick Hornby discusses why we read what we read and what that says about us.

In a broader look at personal libraries, this Middlebury professor writes about looking through others' collections.


Shakespearean Hangover?

Some experts believe that Shakespeare's so-so lines are the result of writing with a hangover. Seriously, he couldn't have had an off day? (Or an off play?)

New Robert Frost Poem

A Robert Frost poem that has been forgotten for 88 years was rediscovered by a student in Virginia. The poem is entitled "War Thoughts At Home" and was written on an inside page of a book in 1918. It will be published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, which is edited by the last person to have found a Frost poem - seven years ago.


This month, my book club read Orlando by Virginia Woolf and I seem to be the only person who really truly enjoyed it. The friend who picked it seemed to like it enough and another friend saw its merits, but the other three members simply did not care for it. I suppose it isn't an easy work to get absorbed by, but that's why I'm glad to have a book club -- we read and discuss the books we should have already read and discussed in a class by now.
Orlando was written by Virginia Woolf as lighter fare, a break from the other book she was writing - The Waves. It plays with the idea of a biography, namely, by being a fictional fantasy biography of a character whose life spans centuries and genders. Bookstores at the time of its release refused to order many copies because "biographies don't sell" and Woolf admitted that she would have to pay a high price for the fun of calling her book a biography, but it actually turned out to be a huge success. It's also no secret that the character of Orlando is based on Vita Sackville-West, a friend and lover of Woolf's. Sackville-West's son is quoted to have said that this novel is the longest and most charming love letter in literature. The novel (like Vita) explores lesbian and bisexual themes in addition to the ruminations on the confines of gender.
Despite what sounds like serious things, it's very funny as a self-aware narrator muses on the business of writing a biography and Orlando muses on writing in general. I sincerely recommend it, particularly because it brought Woolf into a new light for me, as this differs so much from To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway, which were my only references-- both excellent, but not noted for their humor.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 2

I've spent a feverish few days watching the Grey's Anatomy Season 2 DVDs and now that I've finished, I'm undergoing some form of withdrawal. It's a type of despair, knowing that now I have to pace myself and accept that the current Season 3 can only be seen one episode at a time. Perhaps it's better that way, though, as I've bitten down my nails while watching this very addictive show nonstop. This will give my nails and my nerves some much-needed relief.

It's another season at Seattle Grace Hospital as we follow five surgical interns through their good and bad decisions about their careers and lives. We open on the scene we left - Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) has learned that Derek Shepherd/McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) is married and his wife, Addison (Kate Walsh), has come to win him back. To cope with this, Meredith looks longingly, drinks, sleeps around, and does an unforgivable thing to George (T.R. Knight). There's hope for Meredith, though, as McDreamy spends a lot of time looking like a kicked puppy as he watches her from across rooms (or elevators), and to make Meredith's choices complicated, we bring in Chris O'Donnell as a vet who accepts that she's "scary and damaged." Cristina (Sandra Oh) continues her relationship with attending Dr. Burke (Isaiah Washington), with all kinds of complications coming into play (as if there wasn't enough making things complicated simply given their natures and jobs). Rather than leave poor George alone to wrestle with his longing for Meredith, he's given a love interest named Dr. Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez)... while he continues to wrestle with his longing for Meredith. Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and Alex (Justin Chambers) also deal with their relationship, which twists, turns and then backflips when Izzie falls for heart-transplant patient Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) has a baby and fights being "mommy-tracked" while we learn more about Chief Webber (James T. Pickens) and his association with Meredith's mom, the great Dr. Alice Grey who now has Alzheimer's.

Yes, there's a lot of romance and drama, but there's something great about watching an episode that you think is good enough to be the season finale and you're only on disc three of six. Each actor has something to sink his or her teeth into this season and what makes this compelling television is that you can understand their choices (good or bad) because they're responding as people, not just characters swept up in a plot. Christina Ricci (who plays a paramedic in a fantastic storyline involving unexploded amunition in a patient) says to George, "You think you're going to be the kind of person who stays and does something. You know, the good man in the storm. I'm a paramedic. I'm suposed to stay and do something, and I ran away." This is a huge statement for this season -- every person is dealing with what they should run away from or what they should run towards. In the last episode, we deal with the real "fight or flight" response and the consequences of our choices. The season ends with Izzie saying, "I'd rather be running towards someone than running away" and pretty much every character has to make a similar decision for themselves.

While you're waiting for someone to run towards, go run and watch this season. You won't be disappointed.


Lord, what fools these mortals be

You may know the work of Brooke McEldowney in the form of 9 Chickweed Lane, which is a suberb comic strip, but this cartoonist also does a strip called Pibgorn. It's currently in the middle of an illustrated version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Book Fairs and Poetry and Opera, Oh My!

Unsure what to do with yourself next week?

Well, if you happen to be heading to Frankfurt, you should stop by the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the world's largest. You'll also get a taste of India, as evidently the country has been invited as a guest of honor.

No ticket to Frankfurt, hm? How about London? It's National Poetry Day on the 5th and there will be a special reading at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Really, no London either? Well, if you're staying in New York, you might as well go experience some culture! The Klimt exhibit finishes on the 9th and there's always the opera on the 5th for as little as $25. In addition, the New Yorker Festival goes from the 6th to the 8th. Practically everything is sold out, though.

And if you needed advance warning... San Francisco's Literary Festival is October 6th through 14th.


Seriously, you haven't been? Let the Telegraph convince you of why this town deserves some of your hard-won vacation time the next trip you make to Britain.
Do yourself a favor... bring an extra suitcase for when you return home with your treasure and keep the international weight limit for luggage in the back of your mind.

To Write or Not to Write

Right after Margaret Atwood told students to "get a proper job" rather than become writers, Walter Mosley (known for his crime novels) announced that next year, he will publish This Year You Will Write Your Novel. That would be a fun debate at the 92nd Street Y.


Order of the Phoenix Pictures

Already waiting in line for Harry Potter 7? I can't offer any insight as to who checks out, but perhaps these advance pictures from the set of The Order of the Phoenix can placate you for a while. Harry's hair is just a little too short for my liking. Oh well.

Cancer Vixen

My Daily Candy e-mail alerted me to Cancer Vixen: A True Story.
Let’s say you live the fabulous only in New York (and the movies) version of life, publishing cartoons in The New Yorker. And let’s say that after years of being single, you’re about to marry an adoring Italian who happens to be the city’s It restaurateur. And let’s say that three weeks before your wedding, you’re diagnosed with breast cancer. What do you do? If you’re Marisa Acocella Marchetto, you do what you’re best at and create a gorgeous, hilarious graphic memoir about getting sick, getting mad, getting married, and kicking cancer’s ass.
Check it out. Available on amazon.com or bn.com.


Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

...goes to Haruki Murakami for Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. The award money amounts to €35,000 and will be shared between Murakami and his translators, Philip Gabriel & Jay Rubin.

I shamefully confess that I have not yet read any Murakami, though I'm told that if I should only have the opportunity to read one of his books before I die, I should read The Elephant Vanishes.

Can Men Write Romance Novels?

The Telegraph asks "Can men write romance novels?" and two writers debate pro and con.
My response is simply that women happen to write more romance novels than men do, perhaps because culture has bullied men into thinking that writing stories rooted entirely in romantic relationships is unacceptable for strapping young chaps. What people fail to realize is that most stories are love stories (thwarted, triumphant, or otherwise)... but perhaps it's not love for another person that drives them, but love of an idea or an ideal.

Must-See Fall Picks from the Guardian

Had enough Guardian articles today? Too bad. Check out the Guardian critics' top 50 must-see events of the fall. True, some of it isn't helpful for those of us stuck in the States, but it's interesting to know what we're missing.
And if you don't want to read the Guardian, there's always the Telegraph that published Leonardo DiCaprio's top 10 movie list.

Hitler? Paintings on Sale

Art supposedly done by Adolf Hitler will be going on sale in Britain tomorrow -- though this Guardian writer thinks they're all forgeries anyway so stop making a fuss (and even if they were by Hitler, the paintings were pretty terrible anyway).
I always enjoyed the Eddie Izzard comedy sketch on Hitler's failed career as a painter: "I can't get the trees just right- damn! I will kill everyone in the world!" When I was applying for colleges, one scholarship committee asked, "If you could do one thing to change the course of history, what would you do?" My response: "I would advise a certain art school admissions committee to rethink the rejection of one applicant, Adolf Hitler."

Dylan Thomas Prize Shortlist

The Dylan Thomas Prize was established to encourage young writers (in the English-speaking world... with the incentive of £60,000. Anyone aged 30 and under could submit. In July, there was a long-list of 14, now 6 remain on the shortlist.

James Scudamore, The Amnesia Clinic
Lucy Caldwell, Where They Were Missed
Liza Ward, Outside Valentine
Rachel Trezise, Fresh Apples
Nick Laird, Utterly Monkey
Ian Holding, Unfeeling

The winner will be announced on Dylan Thomas's birthday, October 27th. Find articles with more information about the authors and their books on BBC.co.uk and the Independent.


Nancy Yi Fan has signed a book deal with HarperCollins. This may not seem to be truly interesting news except for the fact that she's 11. Well, she's 11 in the Guardian article and 12 on HarperCollins website. I'm going to go with info from HarperCollins because the Guardian article also says that she lives in rural China, whereas HarperCollins reports that she was born in China, but moved to the States when she was seven and now lives in Florida. Fan simply emailed her manuscript to the chief executive of the publishing house and it all took off from there...
The novel, Swordbird, is a fantasy about warring clans of birds and was written after the young author wanted to spread a message of peace in a post 9/11 world. Swordbird will be available early next year.

Altas Shrugged... the movie!

We all knew there were talks going on, but it's official... Angelina Jolie will be starring as Dagney Taggart in the movie adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Rumors are also circulating
that Brad Pitt will be playing John Galt, but there's no definitive word on that yet, just imdb's hypothesizing.


Julian Barnes

An odd quirk of my book-buying tendencies is the fact that I have only read one Julian Barnes novel, yet when I see works by Julian Barnes at used book sales, I almost always purchase them. Whether this personal purchasing tic is caused by some deep love of Julian Barnes sparked solely from England, England or if it's because I want to be a person who reads a lot of Julian Barnes, I'm not sure, but my shelves bear the brunt of this oddity. That being said, having come upon an interview from the Telegraph with the author himself, it is only natural that I should snatch that up and post it here.


A new Jane Eyre... because it's been a few years since the last one.

When you type in "Jane Eyre" on imdb.com, your search will yield 18 titles (and one French actress credited with a single movie in 1909). The latest to be featured on this list is a BBC adaptation and thus, we have an article from The Guardian to make note of it. Lest you think it's just another Brontë puff piece (it takes an English major to suggest that there are such things as Brontë puff pieces), this was written by Lucasta Miller (who wrote The Brontë Myth, of course) and thankfully it does more than summarize Charlotte's life and make a half-hearted mention of Gilbert & Gubar.

If you're in the UK, this four-part BBC adaptation is apparently running on BBC1 from tomorrow through October 15th. If you're in the States like me, you'll just have to wait and add it to your Netflix queue when it becomes available on DVD.

Turkish Novelist Acquitted

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak was acquitted of charges of "insulting Turkishness" with her novel The Bastard of Istanbul. A character within the fiction described the killing of Armenians in WWI as "genocide" and as a result, Shafak faced three years in prison for the offense.

Article 301 of the Turkish penal code criminalises the "public denigration" of Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, the Grand National Assembly, the government, judiciary, military and security services in terms so broad as to be applicable to a wide range of critical opinions. More than 60 writers have been charged under the law since its introduction last year.
Shafak gave birth to her first child last Saturday and therefore could not attend the ruling. Shafak, her lawyer, and her publisher are all very happy at the acquittal, but Shafak noted that the law still exists, therefore creating a culture of censorship and fear in Turkey. The Turkish Prime Minister has conceded, however, that perhaps it is time to change the law and amend the article.

The Bastard of Istanbul will be available in the U.S. in March of 2007.


The Quill Book Awards

From the website:

The Quill Awards pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz and have become the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of the group that matters most in publishing-readers.
People frequently comment that they feel bombarded with awards shows and it makes them feel as though they are being told what qualifies as good... this has led to a general desire to be in on the action (spawning things like dial-in voting for reality TV shows, because it's not like people are offered the chance to vote in other things, like, say, government elections).
One of the reasons that I don't mind the many award listings is because I like to think that people who know a particular industry are singling out works that are worthy of my attention. These people have established themselves in this profession, therefore they must at least have a semi-informed opinion. True, they may be selfishly leaning towards a publishing house/studio or voting for their friend as we all did in student council elections, but even so, while I may not always agree with their choice, when you're sifting through hundreds of movies, books and CDs, it does help narrow the field a bit.
When you click here to vote for your favorites, you will be presented with a seemingly endless list of books in every category. It's like having dinner at Jerry's Deli... if you don't know what you want when you walk in, the menu will be of no help to you, there are too many choices. The plus side is that sifting through these candidates will make you feel better than trying to vote on reruns of American Idol. It doesn't count retroactively, no matter how much you wanted Clay Aiken to win. Console yourself with the fact that the President probably shares your opinion and thought he should do something to make up for Clay's loss.

And while you're voting for your favorite book of the year, remember to vote for this stuff, too.

Hogging the Sheets

The New York Times on people who share a bed. The writer of the study comments that no one has really researched this before. We humbly beg to differ and direct him to the McSweeney's website where he can purchase The Secret Language of Sleep: A Couple's Guide to the 39 Positions. Interested in finding out your ideal sleeping position? Click here.

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated...

After addressing the United Nations, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela lamented that he never got to meet Noam Chomsky before his death. Before you send your condolence cards, make note that Mr. Chomsky is alive, living in Massachusetts, and (given the fact that his book skyrocketed up to best seller status on amazon.com after Mr. Chávez's comments) is doing quite well.

Read Slowly... You Will Be Tested On This

Learning How to Read Slowly Again... from The New York Times. Part review, part musing on the fact that if we try to read everything, we end up absorbing nothing. Perhaps that's what happens when we no longer face the prospect of writing papers or having discussions on books, we skim on the subway to say we've read it and then can't remember a single word when we try to recall it a few months later. Perhaps all books should come with a short quiz at the end and if we can't pass the quiz on a book, we can't have the privilege of boasting that we've just finished it to our friends. "Does Mrs. Dalloway take place in (a) one hour, (b) one day, (c) one week, or (d) one month?"

Under discussion within the article (and supposedly books that might make us process more):
How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide by John Sutherland.
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose.
The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life by Edward Mendelson.
You've Got to Read This Book! 55 People Tell the Story of the Book that Changed Their Life by Jack Canfield & Gay Hendricks.

And the answer is (b) one day.

Bill Travis's New York

Particularly intriguing photography exhibit up in SoHo... the artist's name is Bill Travis and here's an article about his work in New Partisan. The opening paragraph for you, in case you were wavering on even looking at the article or going to the show...
When I think of New York City, many characteristics come to mind: toughness, elegance, vulgarity, hard times, commerce, modernity, diversity. But romance? Mystery? Fantasy? I wouldn’t normally associate these words with New York. That is why, to me, Bill Travis’s New York City images are so unusual. They focus on the very things that generally escape notice.
The show is up until the 30th at the SoHo Photo Gallery on 15 White Street.


The Intelligenstia... MIA?

Two articles about literary journals... and naturally both invoke the name of the late, great Barbara Epstein.

One is entitled "Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?" from the Chronicle of Higher Education and reflects on the writer's years of yearning for a community of dilettantes that recognized the name of Barbara Epstein.
That might sound like an oddly particular expectation. Shouldn't I have hoped — in a broader, more catholic vein — for smart classmates, literate classmates, humane classmates? Well, yes. That would be nice. But if you had asked me what trait I wanted them to share, a trait that in my experience had served as a useful metonymy for the kind of people I want to grab a drink with after work, the trait would be "subscribes to, or just reads in the library, literate, intellectual quarterlies and book reviews." I could find smart, thoughtful, fun, sexy, hilarious people in other precincts of life. What I had never found concentrated in one place were New York Review-type readers.
Oppenheimer continues to discuss the divides between academic departments, noting that "The work of public intellectuals is important to young scholars partly because it helps us speak across disciplines." His references rely heavily on graduate school experiences but his main focus is to encourage even specialized grad students to retain a shred of the liberal arts education that most of them probably shared... by being aware of other fields, more conversations can occur between people with different areas of interest. In addition, if the writer of even a very specialized article is widely read and aware of the nonspecialist's perspective, the article is all the more accessible. Opperheimer writes, "When Stephen Jay Gould died of cancer in 2002, my first thought was, 'But who will explain Darwin to everyone?'" It's a well-founded fear that specialists will cocoon themselves into an isolated community, resulting in even an academic audience being totally ignorant of interesting and complicated subjects that are simply not that community's focus. Today, in the publishing world, one sees a large number of popular nonfiction books written on specific topics that presents intense study on a particular subject for a wider audience. The science, history, and cultural awareness of redheads or mauve or salt... I might be the only person reading these books, but I think the world is better for a specialist who can explain his or her field to anyone with a general thirst for knowledge. Oppenheimer seems to agree and to create well-rounded grad school students, he proposes the following:
I have long believed that admissions committees at graduate schools should work very differently. Instead of asking for letters of recommendation from undergraduate thesis advisers, admissions committees should try to figure out if an applicant is an intellectual. They should ask: "What do you read outside your proposed field of study? What are your favorite books? Where would you most like to travel, and why? What periodicals do you read?" If a student has no aspirations to travel, doesn't seem to read much except within her undergraduate major, and shows no interest in academic debates — well, that's a bad candidate for academe. A bright, kind, loyal person, perhaps, who could be a success in many ways. But a bad candidate for the academy that America needs.

The other article is from New York Magazine, entitled the Ma and Pa of Intelligentsia, and actually discusses Robert Silvers' continuing work at the New York Review of Books and the legacy of Barbara Epstein in greater depth. This article also discusses this same sad state of affairs labeled the "death of the public intellectual." As it discusses the changing literary journal landscape, it makes notes of Dave Eggers and his literary empire... the rising appeal of McSweeney's and The Believer which capture the attention of a younger crowd. It discusses the history of the New York Review of Books and ruminates on its future.
And the Review is more than a magazine, more than a collection of talented writers and editors; it’s a world of its own. The combative letters column; the bookish personals; the pages and pages of publishers’ ads; even the real-estate listings for country homes and flats, which define the geography of the Review’s sophisticated readership (Paris, London, Tuscany, New York, San Francisco, Boston): Combine these elements and you have a distinctive identity composed of idiosyncratic customs, habits, styles—in other words, a culture.


Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I want to marry Aaron Sorkin and have his incredibly articulate children. I don't watch a lot of television. I actually don't watch any television because my TV isn't connected to get channels. My family worked in television as I grew up and I figure I've had enough of it, but I might just have to buy the necessary cables to hook up my TV and watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Sorkin understands television... understands it and still loves it. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (the show within the show) is a popular late-night comedy (think SNL) that has seen wittier days and when the executive producer is shot down by the censors and told he can't run a "Crazy Christians" sketch, he loses it on air. He tells viewers to do the unthinkable - to switch off their television sets. The studio audience thinks this is part of a sketch at first, laughing quietly, until it sinks in that this isn't part of their regularly scheduled programming. He criticizes television, referencing The Apprentice and Fear Factor, and suggests that even though we watch it, we're better than that: TV is "making us mean, it’s making us bitchy, it’s making us cheap punks—that’s not who we are."
The idealism at the core of The West Wing is now turned to television itself here. Like the Bartlet presidency, here we find a loyal band dedicated to making good television and we even see a few familiar faces from Sorkin's White House.
Amanda Peet plays Jordan McDeere, the brand-new network president of the National Broadcasting System. She is at a dinner celebrating her first day on the job when she gets the call that all hell has broken loose at Studio 60. Rather than jump into action with wild fury, she coolly assess the situation and uses it for her own plans - she hires back a writing duo that was fired years before who thought the show was going downhill. By rehiring them, she hopes to send the message that Studio 60 (and NBS) is committed to excellence. Poised and in control, we are clearly supposed to like this woman.
The writing team that she hires is composed of Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford). Matt and Danny are best friends and can play off each other with ease. Matthew Perry's Matt still has the Chandler Bing energy and wisecracks, but he is also tempered with experience. Bradley Whitford's Danny is not the same great idealist as Josh Lyman; he looks tired and even while he's preoccupied with keeping an eye on Matt, it's because of Danny that they return to the show. Danny has tested positive for cocaine use and cannot be cleared to direct the movie that he and Matt had planned on doing. Matt's complication lies in the fact that he used to date Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who is one of the martini-drinking comediennes... and very Christian. While gossip suggests that they broke up over a baseball game wisecrack (when she tells him that the crowd gave her a standing ovation for her rendition of the national anthem, he replies that they were already standing), they broke up because she sang on the 700 Club.
Steven Weber (from Wings) plays the corporate chairman Jack Rudolph who fired the dynamic duo the first time around and tries to bully Jordan into his perspective. Timothy Busfield (Danny, the White House reporter smitten with C.J.) is the director who allowed the Network rant to air for longer than he knew was wise. Nathan Corddry and D.L. Hughley play Tom Jeter and Simon Stiles, respectively, who are two comedians on Studio 60. We'll also be seeing Evan Handler (Harry who married Charlotte on Sex and the City) and a few more West Wing alums.
I think we're going to find that Studio 60 brings Sorkin the same acclaim as Sportsnight and The West Wing. But it's about television, you point out. How much can you do when it's all about television? Given our endless obsession with behind-the-scenes specials and movies, I think there will be ample material to keep this going... particularly when it's Aaron Sorkin, who's willing to poke fun at television as much as he wants to inject his high standards.
Danny Tripp: I have no reason to trust you and every reason not
Jordan McDeere: Why?
Danny Tripp: You work in television.
Tune in to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on Monday nights.

The NY Times review.
The New Yorker review.

The Egyptologist

If you've been disappointed since July when the Hatshepsut exhibit left the Met, then go buy The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips to infuse a little Egypt into this early fall.

The review that I agree with most is from The New Yorker (via bn.com):

This witty second novel plays with fire—“Pale Fire,” that is—by daring to appropriate the scheme of Nabokov’s cleverest novel. In both books, a deranged scholar, laying out a putatively brilliant yet comically improbable thesis, gradually reveals his own bitterness and delusions of grandeur. It’s immediately obvious that Ralph M. Trilipush—an obscure Egyptologist who claims to have discovered the tomb of an unknown yet visionary Pharaoh—is off his rocker. The fun comes in the way his megalomania mirrors the temperament of supposedly levelheaded scholars. (He engages in hilariously pedantic combat with the man who found King Tut’s tomb.) Phillips is nearly as deft as Nabokov at parodying the academic mind, and understands that his work must transcend mere homage. Unfortunately, he tricks up his plot by adding a dull detective who labors to expose Trilipush’s lies, and by stealing a twist from “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” The result is pastiche overload.
The Egyptologist came out a little while ago and though I bought it right as it appeared in paperback, I think I've started it about seven times before this final push was made, the result being that I found it to be a little too long (but we all read Prague and therefore, we were expecting that) and it could have used a great deal more editing (perhaps like this sentence). The enjoyment, however, comes from the deliciously dreadful narrator and Phillips' deft use of the epistolary/journal format. Rather than being shocked at the ultimate conclusion, you feel as though you're aware of what's going on long before they've given you anything to prove it and you simply must watch the events maddeningly unfold. I found Phillips' small explanation of how to write a novel about a topic of which you're completely ignorant to be rather amusing and evidently he relied heavily on the staff of the British Museum who patiently answered his often bizarre questions (such as "what would the hieroglyphs for 'Atum-is-aroused' look like?").



Ever wish you had your own personal librarian for your book collection? Your wish is LibraryThing's command. A book catalog that will categorize your books for you, all you need is the time to type in all the titles or ISBNs of the books filling your home. You can list up to 200 books for free or, by purchasing a yearly or lifetime membership, you can enter in as many books as you please. You can discuss books with other bibliophiles or you can skim through different collections for ideas on what you should read next... like you don't already own 50 books that you still need to read.

Running with Scissors

Running with Scissors... the first in a long line of "Books I Need to Read Before the Movie Adaptation Comes Out."
Oddly, this book reminded me of a family that I was close to when I was growing up. People were always coming and going in a family with eight children, which was interesting to only-child me. The father was worse than Dr. Finch (but was also a doctor) but the mother was infinitely better (almost saintly). To my innocent knowledge, though, the worst things that happened were drugs shared amongst the older kids while the younger kids and I would toilet paper trees or the boys would light illegal firecrackers.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Running with Scissors particularly for Burrough's voice. I agree with the Barnes & Noble editors who call this memoir "both horrifying and hysterical." This is from the publisher:
Running with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs found himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor's bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things got dull an electroshock-therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing and bestselling account of an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.
Constantly surprising, Burroughs arrives as a blazer-clad child into the dizzying Finch home, forced to adapt to his new surroundings so that bizarre scenes become commonplace. While the most memorable and lauded scenes are hysterical, there are some truly heartbreaking realities tucked within, such as Augusten's parents' violent arguments, his first sexual experiences and his entire relationship with Bookman, his parents' violent arguments, the constant belittling of Agnes, Hope's weakening grip on reality, and Dierdre's seasonal psychotic breaks. Humor seems to be the thing that allowed Augusten to survive it all and his slow realization that perhaps he's been a writer all along makes this a fast and fun read.

Frequent flier miles for Broadway

In another attempt to get more people interested in going to Broadway shows, the Nederlander Organization is offering the theater equivalent of frequent flier miles - a rewards program designed to give you more benefits for seeing more theater. Of course, the true beneficiaries of such a program are the people who don't necessarily care what the tickets cost because they're seeing every Broadway show anyway. Are they rating on a per-show basis or does the length of the performance/flight have any bearing? I think we all agree that a 90-minute show doesn't quite have the same bearing as, say, the marathon Coast of Utopia.

The Last Kiss

I heartily agree with most of the NY Times review of The Last Kiss. It's yet another movie about a man with a Peter-Pan complex ending up with a woman who is too good for him.
Michael (Zach Braff) is about to turn thirty and despite the looming milestone, he appears to have a rather perfect life set up for himself -- which is the source of his "crisis." He feels there aren't going to be any more surprises in his life (conveniently, he's ignored the fact that his girlfriend just got pregnant, something they hadn't planned on and would seem to me like it would be a pretty big surprise for Peter Pan).
The pregnant girlfriend is Jenna, played by Jacinda Barrett. She is the best thing in this movie (but I wish she would have articulated more anger towards the end). Michael recognizes "she's smart, she's beautiful, she makes me laugh... if you absolutely have to become an adult and all that comes with it, this is the kind of woman you want to do it with... right?" Of course, we're just supposed to accept that as a given with this beautiful girl because she isn't fleshed out very much - we're told that she's finishing a dissertation, but we're never told what it's about and the only deeper side we see is her discussion of relationships, be it her own or her parents'. Despite that, Jenna's only fault is in loving this loser. She's not even pushing Michael on the M-word (though her mother clearly would prefer the wedding to happen before the baby arrives). Michael tells her that they can discuss it when she can name three great couples that have lasted longer than five years - she can only come up with her parents and a pair of geese at the pond because geese mate for life.
Naturally, though, Jenna's parents don't have the perfect relationship. Blythe Danner is the dramatic mother who feels her marriage close in on her and flails out at her husband, throwing perfume bottles and old affairs at him in an effort to make him react. Tom Wilkinson (who is wasted in this film) has one scene to label him as sarcastic, another to call him quiet and restrained, and yet another where he's supposed to offer the true insight as to what it takes to make a relationship work.
The rest of the supporting cast consists of Michael's lifelong friends whose lives all seem to be falling apart, too. If he'd had a few less friends, perhaps we could have gotten some deeper storylines out of them. We ditch one friend at the start as he gets married, though his wedding is the forum for introducing the other storylines (and it also gave the movie a chance to feature lesbian sex at the bachelor party). Izzy (Michael Weston) is still hopelessly in love with the ex that has just dumped him after years (proving that, yes, sometimes long-term relationships do end). There's another friend who has wild sex and then freaks out when the girl tries to introduce him to her parents. Chris (Casey Affleck) is the friend whose storyline didn't end up on the editing room floor, mainly to juxtapose Michael's potential future with Chris's current nightmare. Chris's marriage is falling apart, his wife is exhausted, and their new baby isn't helping them stop fighting, which apparently means Chris must face the inevitable, painful choice of staying in hell or leaving his wife.
This doesn't bode well for Michael and then he meets Kim (Rachel Blison from the OC). From this point on, Michael doesn't even make real choices so much as let Kim reel him in as she asks him if he wants her number, if he wants to accompany her to a party, and if he'll come and see her in her dorm room (using the tried-and-true line "I just really need to talk to you").
Jenna, of course, finds out that Michael is out with another woman and as they fight and talk with locked doors between them, we're supposed to believe that these two kids have a shot. And I might have allowed them that shot if, after they fought about Michael kissing Kim, he didn't leave Jenna and go sleep with Kim. Jenna's dad gives Michael the advice that you do "whatever it takes" to make it work, which evidently means Michael must simply camp out on their porch for days, wearing her down with his clever tactic of sitting.
In the end (and don't read on if somehow you haven't guessed from my tone how this all turns out), she opens the door and he walks in. This ending doesn't give us a definite reunion, complete with passionate, reconciling kiss as the credits come up, but shows that at least they're talking.
He doesn't deserve her, I hope we're all agreed on that point. I won't totally advocate holding out for perfection, because relationships do take a lot of work, but not all relationships are worth holding onto. If you go with the father's definition that it's what you do to the people you love that matters, then Jenna should find someone who can manage not to sleep with college girls while she's three months pregnant. No matter what, Michael would have to do a lot more than sleep on the porch to convince me that he was worth forgiving.
Too long a review on a movie I didn't particularly, like, I know, but let me end with something I do find interesting about this movie -- the title. The romantics out there might be expecting this to allude to the idea of wanting someone to be your last kiss, the one you spend the rest of your life with. If you thought that's where they were going, you'd be wrong. The reference is to part of the conversation that Michael has with Jenna's father as he explains how he knows that he won't do this again and he loves Jenna. He explains that this little brunette came along and when dad counters with the fact that there will always be little brunettes coming along, Michael says that Kim is the last one he'll ever kiss. Instead of taking the spoony, mushy road, this film is named for the concept of what the main character is choosing to give up as he tries to become an adult and be worthy of the girl. Everything else about the movie wants us to believe in the power of love, but the title's allusion is the last vestige of the Italian film (L'Ultimo Baccio) that this movie based on... something that just didn't translate well in this remake marketed as a romantic dramedy.

But PS... the soundtrack is pretty good. I'll give it that.

Book-Signing Etiquette

The Independent discusses book signings. From Monica Lewinsky fleeing Harrods to Margaret Atwood using an auto-pen in the comfort of her own home, a book signing can be a hit-or-miss event.

Shakespeare Boring? Good sirrah, nay!

The Royal Shakespeare Company is criticizing education that only presents the written word of William Shakespeare. Without the dramatization, the RSC is worried that students are being turned off by boring lessons that may leave them with a distaste for Shakespeare. The RSC will be holding a festival in 2006-2007 that aims to perform every single one of Shakespeare's plays with the help of a few additional national and international theater companies.

Additional Shakespeare for today, both brought to my attention by aldaily.com:

A book review for The Shakespeare Wars from the LA Times.
A Shakespeare search engine: Shakespeare Searched.


Stranger than Fiction

I'm definitely looking forward to the new Emma Thompson movie, Stranger Than Fiction, though I consider the presence of Will Ferrel in an Emma Thomspon movie to be strange indeed. The pairing disturbs me almost as much as the thought of Jack Black with Kate Winslet, but at least Thompson won't be romantically involved with Ferrel.

Out, Damned Spot!

Interesting article from last week in the NY Times about a study published on the psychological need to clean after even contemplating shameful acts. It's being called "the Macbeth effect" after Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's tragedy, whose guilt in urging the murder of the King manifests itself in a stain that cannot be erased.
The study was co-written by a graduate student at Northwestern and several studies involved students broken into groups where one group asked to recall unethical things they have done, and the other encouraged to remember good deeds. At the end of the test, both groups were offered a pencil or an antiseptic wipe for their troubles and the group asked to reflect on negative actions were twice as likely to accept the antiseptic wipe.
Unable to sit down with the Bard to discuss this theory, the NY Times went on to chat with Liev Schreiber, who played Macbeth this summer for Shakespeare in the Park. Schreiber commented that people lined up to use the showers, which is unusual given that everyone usually opts to wait and shower in their own homes.
An updated version of the Scottish play, Scotland, PA, features the McBeths vying for a fast food kingdom in the 70s. I thought Maura Tierney's Pat McBeth, constantly rubbing salves into a burn on her hand, was particularly good.

Adaptation Movies

Mediabistro ran a poll asking readers to comment on the influx of literary adaptation movies. Lately, I feel like my whole reading list is dictated by what I need to finish reading so I can see the movie when it comes out.

Here are a few hitting theaters soon:

All the King's Men
The Black Dahlia
Casino Royale
Fast Food Nation
The Last King of Scotland
The Prestige
Running with Scissors

The Cavuto

Thanks go to mediabistro for pointing out this particular Daily Show clip where Jon Stewart discusses that modern piece of punctuation... the Cavuto.

Strange Death of Liberal Amercia

An excellent article chastizing liberal Americans for their lack of action in the London Review of Books: Bush's Useful Idiots: Tony Judt on the Strange Death of Liberal America.

He ends particularly well:

It is the liberals, then, who count. They are, as it might be, the canaries
in the sulphurous mineshaft of modern democracy .... Liberal intellectuals used
to be distinguished precisely by their efforts to think for themselves, rather
than in the service of others. Intellectuals should not be smugly theorising
endless war, much less confidently promoting and excusing it. They should be
engaged in disturbing the peace – their own above all.

Klimts in New York

The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer that sold for $135 million earlier this year is not the only Klimt up for sale. It was only one of five paintings by Gustav Klimt that the Austrian relinquished to Maria Altmann, a niece of Mrs. Block-Bauer, after a court ruled that the paintings were improperly seized by the Nazis when Austria was annexed in World War II.

The paintings are on view at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan through October 9th. The paintings will be auctions by Christie's on November 8th.

This is "Birch Forest," painted in 1903.


Booker Shortlist Announced

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction Shortlist was announced yesterday.

Kiran Desai -- The Inheritance of Loss
Kate Grenville -- The Secret River
M.J. Hyland -- Carry Me Down
Hisham Matar -- In the Country of Men
Edward St Aubyn -- Mother’s Milk
Sarah Waters -- The Night Watch

The winner will be announced on October 10th.

The Guardian singled out a bunch of bloggers that actually had read some of the books on the list.

Harry Potter Can't Fly?

Harry Potter was nearly kept from flying - and not by Quidditch referees or Dementors, but by airport security staff in the US. The BBC reports that JK Rowling was stopped as she tried to board her flight -- she refused to stow the manuscript for Book Seven in her carry-on baggage. Good to know that we're focused on the true terrorists... after all, she's bewitching our children and making them *gasp!* read!
Ultimately, Rowling was allowed to take her notes onto the flight, bound together with rubber bands. If the security staff was going to use their power for something useful in this situation, they might have at least exacted a promise that Harry would be okay...

JK Rowling was in the US for charity readings on the 1st and 2nd - Rowling, Stephen King, and John Irving read to benfit Doctors Without Borders and the Haven Foundation.

House, M.D. - Season 2

Old news, I know, but House, M.D. - Season Two came out on DVD on August 22nd and it took me until last night to get through everything. This season, we see the return of House's old love Stacey and some interesting cases where Cameron, Chase, and Foreman play more pronounced roles. Wilson moves in with House for a short period of time as he separates from his wife and Cuddy claims a storyline of her own towards the end. The season finale skillfully challenges storytelling reality and I think it's my favorite (particularly after the two-part "Euphoria" episodes where I just wasn't attached enough to a certain doctor to be too concerned for him). Hugh Laurie remains a great actor who has made this offensive, brutally honest character his own - and we love him for it. The show's underlying strength remains in his cold ability to solve puzzles, which automatically generates the question everyone asks - House may know what it takes to save a life, but what makes it worth living?
Go rent or buy it. Netflix took too long and I had to go out and rent the DVDs from Blockbuster. I'm not a patient person.

If you've seen season 2 already, perhaps I might interest you in a gag reel?

Oh, you've seen that, too, then? Well, what about Hugh Laurie singing "Mystery" on Inside the Actor's Studio?

Alain de Botton & Michael Kimmelman

Alain de Botton & Michael Kimmelman are speaking at the 92nd Street Y in what will certainly be an interesting discussion about art, life & philosophy.

Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, Status Anxiety, and now The Architecture of Happiness. Michael Kimmelman is the chief art critic for the New York Times and the author of Accidental Masterpiece: The Art of Life and Vice Versa (which just came out in paperback).

12 Books in 120 Seconds

If anyone else is eagerly awaiting Friday the 13th, you'll get a kick out of this: 12 Books in 120 Seconds. The entire Series of Unfortunate Events compressed into 120 seconds of explanation, as narrated by Tim Curry.

My first exposure to the sad tale of the Baudelaires was an audio book read by Tim Curry, which was enough to snag me into buying all 12 of the books of the books in the series, the "Unauthorized Biography" and now I'll probably buy the Beatrice Letters, too.
The added bonus of being interested in this series is that Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket's handler...) is on the LitPAC Board of Advisors!

Oh and here's a Guardian interview with Lemony Snicket himself.


I'd like to draw your attention to LitPAC - a literary political action committee that raises money for progressive congressional candidates.

LitPAC holds fundraisers in the forms of readings - the Progressive Reading Series. You buy a ticket to hear fantastic authors and you get to support progressive candidates. It doesn't get any better. A lot of the books I'll be discussing are LitPAC authors who read for LitPAC or help run it. It's a pretty awesome way to be involved in the polticial process and expose yourself to great, new writing.


In vain, I have struggled against the inclination to start a blog.

It will not do.

Name that bastardized quote and we should get along just fine.
At this inchoate stage, I haven't settled on the purpose of this blog. I assume I'll be discussing books, movies, politics, language... anything that sparks my interest and perhaps yours, too. Forgive me if I skip through pleasantries, but we'll have time to get acquainted, I'm sure. For now...

"I'm just going to write because I cannot help it."
~ Charlotte Bront