1.31.2007

Barack Obama: Son of God?

Slate weighs the evidence for the case that Barack Obama is the Son of God.

Can Humanity Survive?

The NY Times asks, Can humanity survive? Want to bet on it?

The Little Book of Plagarism

From the LA Times, a review of The Little Book of Plagarism by Richard Posner.
At 116 pages — and small pages at that — Richard A. Posner's "The Little Book of Plagiarism" is aptly titled. It's a brief but provocative and illuminating meditation on the current craze for searching out, denouncing and punishing authors who appear to have borrowed the work of others and passed it off as their own. Ever the controversialist, Posner is willing to entertain the idea that plagiarism is hardly the high crime that moralists in the media and the academy advertise it as, and he makes a good case for the notion that copying is (and always has been) a crucial element of the creative enterprise.
Read the whole book review here.

Intriguing Twist to Dr. Zhivago

From the Washington Post:
Into one of the most sordid episodes in Russian literary history, the Soviets' persecution of Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago," a Russian historian has injected a belated piece of intrigue: the CIA as covert financier of a Russian-language edition of the epic novel.
Read the whole article here.

The Church of Football

Guess who won't be watching the Super Bowl? If you guessed me, congratulations. On the eve of such an event as the Super Bowl, the Nation talks about God and football.

The Forgotten Virtue

The Weekly Standard discussing a new book on Plato and the virtue of courage.

When tomorrow comes...

If I forgot to post about this, I can't remember, but here's the latest article on the heir of Victor Hugo who failed to block a sequel to Les Misérables in the French courts.

Orhan Palmuk Cancels Germany Tour

Orhan Palmuk cancelled a tour of Germany after threats on his life:
Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has cancelled a publicity tour of Germany amid fears for his safety following the murder of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink.
Hanser Verlag, Pamuk's German publisher, confirmed that the celebrated author had called off a string of book readings in Hamburg, Cologne and Stuttgart. He was also due to receive an honourary degree at Berlin's Free University on Friday.
Fears for Pamuk's safety are running high. Last week, Yasin Hayal, the man who police say has confessed to orchestrating Dink's murder, issued what appeared to be a direct threat to the novelist. "Orhan Pamuk, be smart! Be smart!" he called to journalists as he was being taken to an Istanbul courtroom by police. Police are investigating whether his words constitute a threat to the novelist, something that could lead to Hayal's prosecution.
Read the whole story here in the Guardian.

As the Page Turns...

Do you find yourself indulging in novels more than things like soap operas? The Guardian asks if novels have become middle class soaps.

Murder, She Wrote...

The Guardian discusses gruesome crime novels written by women.

Calcutta Book Fair Cancelled

Because of damage to the park where the event is held, the Calcutta book fair was abruptly cancelled this year.

Writers on Writing

BookForum discusses what writers talk about when they talk about writing.

Tintoretto

The Prado is giving Tintoretto his first major show in 70 years. Read about the show and Tintoretto in the Guardian.

Great Title Goes Here

You aren't supposed to judge a book by it's cover (but we do)... what about its title? The title of a book is just as important -- if not more so. Here's a Guardian blog discussing the importance of book titles.

Predictable Awards

It seems like this year, there are few movies or actors rising up to snatch up awards that were up for grabs... here's the NY Times talking about the predictable winners and the fact that they must be running out of new people to thank in their acceptance speeches.

Gromit, help!

DreamWorks is splitting with Aardman Animation, the production company that has popularized Wallace & Gromit, after heavy losses from Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (which despite critical success, lost the studio money) and, more recently, Flushed Away (which lost the studio a lot of money).
Rumours of a split have been rife since last year when DreamWorks said it expected Flushed Away to lose money.
Aardman spokesman Arthur Sheriff insisted there was no animosity in the split. DreamWorks was focusing on computer animated films, while Aardman wanted to continue making its traditional "claymation" movies as well.
"We always knew America would be a hard task for us - we're a very English company," Mr Sheriff said. "We embrace the international market but we think part of our strength is our English sense of humour and we want to continue with that" he added.
I certainly hope they will continue their claymation movies as Wallace & Gromit are quite funny in the bumbling British tradition

So we're building a henge, are we? That's nice.

Archaeologists working near Salisbury Plain have come across what could be the structures that housed the builders of Stonehenge.

Sarah Silverman: The Sitcom

The latest comedian to be granted a self-titled series is Sarah Silverman, known best for her film Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic and as a small but memorable contributor to 2005's The Aristocrats.
Ms. Silverman has earned a reputation as a sharply honed assessor of self-importance and political correctness, a persona that, in mocking the pretensions of people who believe they have none, is in vogue in the vein of “Borat,” Jon Stewart and others.
She also has been refining her jokes about flatulence.
To those who might scoff that scatological humor should be beneath someone who aspires to poke holes in the convictions of the politically correct, she has an answer. “It’s the sign language of comedy,” she said during an interview over a lunch of poached eggs and toast at a downscale-hipster diner in Hollywood. “It’s universal.”
"The Sarah Silverman Program" premieres tomorrow on Comedy Central and features many of the same folks that you saw in her film, including Brian Posehn and Silverman's sister, Laura.

The Police Reunite

It's official... Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers will reunite as the Police for one night -- the 2007 Grammys.

1.29.2007

The Sundance Brand

Whether or not it killed them at Sundance, it seems like these days a movie just needs to be shown at the film festival to gain some press. This little festival has grown considerably since it started showing films in 1978...

Smoking Onstage

Smoking bans are cracking down... even extending to the stages in theaters.

Glaciers Shrinking Even Faster...

Reported by the BBC:
Mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than they were in the 1980s, scientists have announced.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which continuously studies a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, says the acceleration is down to climate change.
Its announcement came as climate scientists convened in Paris to decide the final wording of a major report.
There is reported to be some disagreement over what forecasts they will make for sea level rise.
But whatever form of words they agree on, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will declare that human-induced climate change is happening and needs to be tackled.
Read the full article here.

Here's more in the NY Times.

Moscow Bans Gay Pride Parade

The mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has called the gay pride parade "satanic" and says he will never allow it to occur in the Russian capital.

Another You

On a lark, I bought tickets to see Another You this weekend as the Public Theater finished up its Under the Radar Festival. When you're seeing a one-man show, you don't necessarily know what you're getting into... and it didn't help that we didn't read anything about any of the shows before we decided we wanted to see something on Sunday evening and just clicked "buy."
Tickets to Another You was one of my better impulse purchases recently. Written and performed by Allen Johnson, the show is approximately an hour's worth of insight and honesty from what might seem an unlikely source. Alternately touching and funny, but always quite powerful, I was more than a little surprised when the lights went up and I had to return to the real world after living for a while inside Mr. Johnson's memories. My favorite moment (mentioned in the article I link below) comes during a story that he tells about a girl he knew in kindergarten. They were always aware of the other person; during naptime, they would lie down and stare at each other, filled with the mutual sense that someone else was happy that they were there. Finishing the story, Johnson drew a heart with a wet finger on the black stage floor, the image of the heart lingering with an incredible amount of emotional draw to it that hardly seems capable of a saliva-created doodle. It was real and beautiful, though, as was his story of his connection to the little girl. The entire performance felt as though you were being told a story by a friend who might not have been dear at the start of the conversation, but certainly would be by virtue of this shared intimacy by the end of it.
Read a good review of the show from nytheater.com and keep a look out for anything that Mr. Johnson might be working on in the future -- particularly if he had any part in the writing.

Google Maps Places in Books

Google has linked up its book search and its mapping functions so now, users can map places within the books.

Changes at the British Library...

Shorter hours? Charging for admission? Changes are afoot at the British Library...

Stoppard and... Oprah?

The Guardian comments on Tom Stoppard's Oprah-like effect on moving Russian literature off the shelves and into the hands of eager Manhattanites.

Oh, and speaking of Oprah, she's put a new book on her list (after a year's silence following the James Frey scandal): Sidney Poitier's memoirs.

SAG Awards

The Screen Actors' Guild Awards were last night and the Oscar favorites seemed to edge a bit closer to certainty.

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Lead Role
  • Forest Whitaker -- The Last King of Scotland

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Lead Role
  • Helen Mirren -- The Queen

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Eddie Murphy -- Dreamgirls

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Jennifer Hudson -- Dreamgirls

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
  • Little Miss Sunshine -- Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, & Greg Kinnear

Go to the SAG website for the full list.

And if you wanted to read more about it, here's a NY Times article talking about Dreamgirls and the lack of a Best Picture Oscar nod.

1.26.2007

Greek Royal Auction To Go On

Christie's will be going ahead with a sale of objects that were once owned by the Greek royal family... despite protests from the Greek government. The objects are no longer owned by the former Greek royal family (they were supposedly sold in 1991) and Christie's has declined to identify the seller.

The Philosopher and the Murder Mystery

I've been keeping Sherlock Holmes in my purse as subway reading, thus I naturally had to pass along this Guardian blog... which great thinkers would make perfect detectives?

Of Epithets and Compliments

The Guardian discusses the term "bitch" and other negative words hurled at women:
Far more unites men and women than divides us, but when it comes to negative stereotypes, women win hands down. Girls are "bossy" and grow into women who "nag", while boys of all ages are "authoritative" and "natural-born leaders". When men go out for a drink together it is considered positive social interaction or "networking"; when women get together they "gossip". But the stereotype that many women hate the most is "bitch". Men bitch too, of course, only in their case it is dubbed Machiavellian (with a palpable hint of respect) or they are hailed for their acerbic wit. As the actor Bette Davis once said: "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man; when a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch."
For centuries, the straight definition of the word bitch was simply a sexually promiscuous woman. Then, as women became more powerful throughout the 20th century, the definition expanded to include being duplicitous. Now men tend to call women bitches when they do not get what they want from them. So, if a woman turns a man down for a date, she is a bitch. If she climbs the career ladder faster than him, she is a bitch. If she becomes his boss and turns down one of his ideas, she is - you guessed it - a bitch.
Read the whole article here.

The wrong kind of reading lessons?

A Guardian blog on gender issues and action/adventure stories.

Sara Coleridge Poems Discovered

Sara Coleridge, the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, might finally be recognized as a poet in her own right who didn't necessarily sacrifice her own talent for her father.

Eva Green

The Guardian interviews Eva Green about her Bafta nomination, "007, Bertolucci and when not to do a nude scene."
All the while, Barbra Streisand's song is in my head: "Love, ageless and evergreen/ Seldom seen by two." Evergreen, Eva Green: can she be real or just a drooling marketing man's invention to revive the Bond franchise like cinematic Viagra in its sixth decade?
Here comes the answer: Green arrives blissfully dogless (she apparently owns a terrier, though). She has blushes like roses under April snow (check), cheekbones like porcelain (check), eyes you could gaze into for a happy afternoon (check), fey handshake (check) and eyebrows in need of attention (mine too). She resembles a boiled-down Isabelle Adjani, and yet also has the gamine charms of Audrey Tautou and the improbable politesse of Emmanuelle Béart. Bertolucci said Green was "so beautiful it's indecent". This is wrong: her beauty, though extreme, has nothing indecent about it. Yet.
Read the article/interview here.

Tied Up In Knots...

A Guardian blog on a very important topic... is the way a man ties his scarf indicative of his personality?

Agnes Grey & Daisy Miller

Remember how a little while ago, I recommended DailyLit -- the website that sends you a small, five-minute chunk of a book every day? By this point, I've read two books as a result of DailyLit... and yes, they were short books and yes, I may have clicked the "Send me the next installment now!" button a few times, but still, I maintain that this is a great idea. Sure, you want to read some books in an easy chair by a fire, but this gives you just five minutes of assured respite in your day (because who wants to see messages go unread in their unbox?).
First, I started myself off with Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, which I had read before and yet had barely remembered. It takes 82 emails to send you the full text, though naturally that speeds up when you have a few days where you can read a bit more that one email's worth.
Next up was Daisy Miller by Henry James, which I selected after it was mentioned a great deal in Reading Lolita in Tehran. At only 26 sections, it was a very quick read and certainly intriguing.
I heartily recommend both as quick pieces that one can get through with relative speed.

Russian Thinkers in High Demand

As a result of Lincoln Center's production of Coast of Utopia, books about Russian thinkers that used to gather dust on bookshelves are suddenly in high demand.

Smokers Beware

Science is closing in on you. Scientists have suggested that an injury to the insula (a specific part of the brain near the ear) could cause the injured person to totally lose their smoking habit... permanently. So smokers, keep an eye out for loved ones weilding heavy objects and looking at your ears.

Read more about it in this follow-up NY Times article.

1.25.2007

Art Stolen By Nazis Returned to Czech Family

That pretty much says it all but you always have to take note of things when people try to make amends for the Nazis, right? For details, check out the Guardian.

The Frilled Shark

You've probably heard about it already... a rarely-seen frilled shark was captured in Tokyo and after a few hours, died. Check out a NY Times blog about it... and be sure to watch the video.

E-paper

A small British company named Plastic Logic is readying itself to produce one million sheets of e-paper...

Borders Original Voices

Borders announced the 2006 Original Voices Award winners. Check it out here.

Text Message Novel

In Finland, an entire novel written in text messages was published on Wednesday.
The Last Messages tells the story of a fictitious IT-executive in Finland who resigns from his job and travels throughout Europe and India, keeping in touch with his friends and relatives only through text messages.
His messages, and the replies — roughly 1,000 altogether — are listed in chronological order in the 332-page novel written by Finnish author Hannu Luntiala. The texts are rife with grammatical errors and abbreviations commonly used in regular SMS traffic.
Read the full story here.

Condé Nast Dream Trip Travel Contest

Enter here.

1.24.2007

Canaletto in England

"The great Venetian embellisher"? The Guardian discusses Canaletto and the lack of pollution depicted in his paintings of England at a decidedly dirty time.

Litvinenko's Co-Author Cancels Trip

Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian historian who co-authored a book with Alexander Litvinenko (the former Russian spy who was recently poisoned), cancelled a trip to London after the FBI has advised against the trip for his own safety.

A Librarian's Lament

A librarian's lament in the Washington Post.

Copyright Laws & "Orphaned Works"

From Yahoo news:
A U.S. appeals court has rejected a bid by Internet activists to roll back federal laws that extended copyright protection over orphan works, or books and other media that are no longer in print.
Read the whole article here.

1.23.2007

Winter Book Quiz

The Guardian offers a book quiz for a wintry night.

Sir Michael Caine, Novelist

Actor Michael Caine has already written an autobiography and now he's trying his hand at a novel.

Singletons

On the heels of the recent study that said 51% of women live alone, the NY Times asks, "Why are there so many single Americans?"

Do you believe in magic?

From the NY Times:
Psychologists and anthropologists have typically turned to faith healers, tribal cultures or New Age spiritualists to study the underpinnings of belief in superstition or magical powers. Yet they could just as well have examined their own neighbors, lab assistants or even some fellow scientists. New research demonstrates that habits of so-called magical thinking — the belief, for instance, that wishing harm on a loathed colleague or relative might make him sick — are far more common than people acknowledge.
These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history. But magical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day.
The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.
Read the rest of the article here.

Oscar Nominations!

The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, with some intriguing selections and some annoying lapses... as per usual. The film with the most nominations was Dreamgirls, though it was not nominated for Best Picture. The Oscars will be on February 25th and Ellen DeGeneres will be hosting. Check out the full list here.

BEST PICTURE
  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen
BEST ACTOR
  • Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Toole, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
BEST ACTRESS
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children
BEST DIRECTOR
  • Martin Scorsese, The Departed
  • Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen
  • Paul Greengrass, United 93
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  • Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  • Adriana Barraza, Babel
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

1.22.2007

The Most Depressing Day...

Thanks to Faith for reminding me, though I had heard of this study a few years ago: January 22nd is believed to be the most depressing of the year.

The Gifted Self

I always enjoy the "Rereading" section of the Guardian... it reminds me that there's time to catch up on everything that I feel like I've somehow missed. This time, the Guardian discusses the gifted self -- writers on generosity and kindness.

Travel Guide Books

All this info is taken from this NY Times article... and summarized or expounded upon.

Lonely Planet is launching a new guidebook -- Bluelist 2007. On the Lonely Planet Bluelist website (which runs in tandem with the book and lets readers get involved in the recommendations), "bluelist" is defined as a verb: "to recommend a travel experience." Therefore, rather than fully explain everything about locations, Bluelist is just offering recommendations for its writers favorite or most intriguing experiences, as a friend would.

In other guidebook news, Rough Guides is doing their part for the environment by publishing the Rough Guide to Climate Change, which the co-founder of Rough Guides says he intends to send to every Senator.

Richest Women in Entertainment

It's unsurprising that JK Rowling is the second richest woman in entertainment. The only one to top her is Oprah Winfrey.

Beware of Falling Gargoyles

A gothic cathedral in León (northwestern Spain) has kicked off an emergency campaign to raise funds for restoration after two stone gargoyles fell from their perches in a week.

Mystery Rembrandt

A portrait of Saint James is to be auctioned at Sotheby's in New York this Thursday, painted by Rembrandt for no clear reason. The portrait was most likely painted towards the end of Rembrandt's life -- "Such a religious commission would have been a last-ditch attempt to get his finances back in order after official bankruptcy and the general decline in his reputation as his work fell out of favour." Read more in the Guardian here.

1/25 Update: The portrait sold for $25.8 million dollars to an anonymous bidder.

Saadiyat Island

Saadiyat Island lies about 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi (also an island in the Persian Gulf... and the capital of the largest emirate of the seven United Arab Emirates). The island is currently undergoing massive development with the hopes that it will become the cultural center of Abu Dhabi. Now hopping on board with the plans is the Louvre, who is in the final stages of a deal that would lend its name and artwork to a new museum. Of course, this means that certain pieces -- particularly any nudes -- would not be welcome for fear of offending cultural sensibilities, but the Louvre maintains that it will present a collection representative of Western art.

Trains of Thought

My favorite mode of transportation is the train... not sure why, but it always has been. There's something alluring about travel in such a leisurely style. On a train, it's not all about the destination... it's about the journey. In that spirit of things, check out the Guardian blogs for a discussion on trains of thought (wokka wokka wokka) and your favorite train reads.

Show & Tell

Have we seen too much of the fairer sex? The OpinionJournal (from the Wall Street Journal) talks about a decidedly untasteful trend to bare all.

Please pass the salt...

Steven Pinker and the layered ways in which we communicate:
"We have to do two things with language. We've got to convey a message and we've got to negotiate what kind of social relationship we have with someone," Pinker says in a telephone interview from his home in Cambridge, Mass.
Even something as seemingly straightforward as asking for the salt involves thinking and communicating at two levels, which is why we utter such convoluted requests as, "If you think you could pass the salt, that would be great."
Says Pinker: "It's become so common that we don't even notice that it is a philosophical rumination rather than a direct imperative. It's a bit of a social dilemma. On the one hand, you do want the salt. On the other hand, you don't want to boss people around lightly.
"So you split the difference by saying something that literally makes no sense while also conveying the message that you're not treating them like some kind of flunky."
Read the rest of the article here in the Toronto Star.

Evolutionary Psychology Comedy...

The title of this article is "Why Chicks Don't Dig the Singularity." It's an interview with Joe Quirk, author of Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women: The Real Reason Men and Women Are Different.

Google and Books

All this talk about Google potentially making books obsolete... I personally don't think that we'll loose books any time in the near future. Does anyone actually enjoy reading a book on a screen? I think not. Here's the Times talking about libraries heading for the internet and here's the businessy section of the Times discussing Google. If you want to discuss it, here's a Guardian book blog, "Missing Ink."

1.21.2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I'd been waiting for weeks for someone to agree to see Pan's Labyrinth with me. Why not just see it on my own? To be honest, I was too scared... I was certain that I'd need someone to hold onto after a few comments by friends implied recurring nightmares. But time was passing along and I resolved to suck it up and just go. Then, at the last minute, two of my girlfriends agreed that they'd see anything. Em and Wen, I'm sorry. I found it to be really interesting and aesthetically fascinating, but by the end of the film, my friends were buried in my arms, close to tears. They might not be letting me pick a movie again any time soon.
That being said, I really did enjoy Pan's Labyrinth, though I get more pleasure from it by remembering it than I did from the immediate experience sometimes... Anything where children are in mortal harm automatically makes things a little more frightening and after this scene where a man is beaten with a bottle... well, you get the sense that the people making this movie would then have no qualms about hurting kids.
From the NY Times:
Set in a dark Spanish forest in a very dark time — 1944, when Spain was still in the early stages of the fascist nightmare from which the rest of Europe was painfully starting to awaken — “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a political fable in the guise of a fairy tale. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Does the moral structure of the children’s story — with its clearly marked poles of good and evil, its narrative of dispossession and vindication — illuminate the nature of authoritarian rule? Or does the movie reveal fascism as a terrible fairy tale brought to life?
The brilliance of “Pan’s Labyrinth” is that its current of imaginative energy runs both ways. If this is magic realism, it is also the work of a real magician. The director, Guillermo Del Toro, unapologetically and unpretentiously swears allegiance to a pop-fantasy tradition that encompasses comic books, science fiction and horror movies, but fan-boy pastiche is the last thing on his mind. He is also a thoroughgoing cinephile, steeped in classical technique and film history.
Ofelia is a girl (played by Ivana Baquero, 11 at the time of the filming) who reads endlessly and even though her mother tells her that she's too old for fairy tales. Her mother is in a difficult position where the rejection of fairy tales where someone else offers hope is perhaps necessary... widowed with a daughter, she has remarried a fascist Captain and is undergoing a painful pregnancy. The Captain insists that a son should be born into the world near his father, and so Ofelia and her mother have made an ill-advised trip to the Captain's woodland outpost where he fights the rebels and terrorizes the local people.
In the midst of all this painful reality, Ofelia holds out that maybe, just maybe, there is magic in the world. And so the fantasy that results may or may not be all in her mind... if it's real or not it isn't quite the point. In this world, Ofelia is possibly the reincarnated daughter of the king of the underworld; the princess ran away to the upperworld and was blinded by the light, but the king always knew she would one day return. To validate her claim, Ofelia is guided by dragonflies turned fairies and a frightening faun (hence, Pan) that she finds at the bottom of a long, winding staircase in the middle of a labyrinth next to the military's camp. If she completes a set of tasks, then the faun tells her that she will be welcomed back to her true father's kingdom.
Of course, in the world above ground, the fascist army tries to destroy a resistence group that hides in the woods. The only person to take true notice of Ofelia is Mercedes, a servant in the camp who also smuggles things to the rebels, including her brother. She insists that she is not brave, but naturally, it is those that say this that often step up to be truly fantastic in their actions. As Ofelia completes her tasks, Mercedes delivers letters and guides the doctor to the rebel camp. If there is any hope for Ofelia in the real world, we know that it lies in Mercedes.

This movie is truly fascinating to watch and while I may have winced and grimaced or muffled my surprise, I never once closed my eyes. The most obviously interesting image was the monster who ate children -- as Ofelia creeps through his lair (filled with empty children's shoes), he remains motionless until she gives in to temptation and eats a grape from his table. With slowness, he rises, taking his time... and with his eyes in his hands, he lumbers after her. Of course, this obviously fantastic image is contrasted with that which might seem rather mundane after that, but ultimately made more of an impression on me: the hauntingly beautiful and terrifying woods that surround everything, shielding fantasty and reality, allowing both to coexist. Because ultimately, you don't know if her fantasies are a reality... and it's not asking you to make some kind of call on it like the Giver, thank you. Both perspectives are important to the story, though ultimately, reality proves to be more frightening than anything we can imagine.

Barack the House...

Barack Obama and the baby boomer generation discussed in the NY Times...

The Whole World Is Watching, Why Aren't Americans?

From the NY Times, A.O. Scott talks about movie watching and Americans.

1.19.2007

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The list for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize can be found here... peruse at your own peril because you know that you'll end up adding more books to your endless "to read" list.

Munkacsi & Cartier-Bresson

The International Center for Photography is opening exhibits today dedicated to Martin Munkacsi and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Decibel Penguin Prize

From the Guardian:
The Decibel Penguin prize, an Arts Council initiative awarded to writers of "Asian, African and Caribbean background," has been forced to change its entry criteria after an intervention by the Commission for Racial Equality.
This year's award will have no ethnic entry requirements, and will instead focus on "personal stories of immigrants to the UK." The CRE had notified the prize's organisers that the original entry criteria could breach Section 29 of the Race Relations Act, and may have resulted in legal proceedings.
Read the full article here.

Conn Iggulden

A notable event in the history of UK publishing: Conn Iggulden is the first author to ever occupy the number one position on both fiction and nonfiction bestsellers lists.

1.18.2007

Sundance Kicks Off

The Guardian reports on the Sundance Film Festival.

Sleepwalkers at/on MoMA

The latest exhibit to make a stir at MoMA is Doug Aitken's "Sleepwalkers," a video installation piece that is projected onto the exterior walls of the museum.

Art Buchwald

Columnist Art Buchwald died Wednesday, according to a family friend. He will be missed.

Harold Pinter Receives the Legion d'Honneur

Harold Pinter, British playwright and winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, has been awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French Prime Minister. Read more about Pinter and the history of the Legion d'Honneur in the Guardian.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Another Guardian blog... this one discussing a new translation of the 14th-century poem, "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight."

Daljit Nagra

This new British-born Indian poet will see his debut collection of poetry published by Faber, Britain's leading publisher of verse.

And unrelated to Nagra (but related to poetry), a Guardian blog by the bloke who said he would learn 100 poems in a year... and is now buried under a mound of poetry submitted by readers who attest that it is certainly not a dying art.

Building Around Books

In the NY Times Style Section... a house built around a collection of books. Mmmm...

Hollywood Ratings

Everyone can agree that a PG-13 or R rating today is not what it used to be. Is the movie ratings system in need of a rehaul?

Metal Detector Treasure

The Guardian on the relationship between archaeologists and metal-detector toting hobbyists.

The Monet of Pencil and Paper

Monet sketches will be at the Clark this summer. I'm so there.

A £28m hole?

With art restoration down to, well, a rather precise science, how can you measure the value of art that has been repaired to near perfection? Steve Wynn is finding that the hole he knocked into his Picasso substantially knocked down the value of the painting according to his insurers. But the damage to a work of art becomes part of the art, doesn't it?
So on what does the value of a painting depend if it can be so reduced by a mere hole? The reputation of the artist? His or her stock market rating or investment potential? Or the intrinsic worth of the work itself? Which might even depend upon being damaged... Lucio Fontana's razored canvases would be worth nothing without those slashes. Nor Gustav Metzger's torched paintings.
The case of the silver-dollar-sized hole, as Wynn has described it, is utterly baffling. It is incredible to think that the experts, who include the restorer himself, actually believe the painting to be worth so many millions less because there has been some interference with the surface of the canvas. What can one conclude? That intrinsic worth can be compromised by extrinsic damage? That the restorer, et al, have got some very odd ideas? That Wynn is taking the mickey?
Read more or state your own opinion in the Guardian blogs.

Ian McEwan Finds Long Lost Brother

It's like a fiction plot all on its own, but I suppose that truth is often stranger than fiction. In searching to find the family he never knew, a bricklayer named Dave Sharp found that his long-lost baby brother is novelist Ian McEwan. Read about it in the Guardian or in the NY Times, take your pick.

Coleridge and a Faustian Pact

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was advanced a sum of £100 for a translation of Goethe's Faust that he never completed... or did he? A Professor at the University of Montana is claiming that Coleridge might have been the author of an 1821 translation attributed to an anonymous author... but he could not attach his name to the project because he gave the completed version to another publisher than the one that advanced him the £100. Am I a total literary dork that I find this to be fascinating? Whatever, if you're like me, you'll want to read more about it in the Independent.

1.17.2007

Veggie Love

The history of vegetarianism in the New Yorker.

Somebody Should Make a Movie About My Life

Woody Allen in the Onion. Need I say more? Thanks, m.

A Common Ground

This may be another one of the British things that I post, but really, they do so many more interesting literary things across the pond. I mean come on... right now, this project called Common Ground is asking people to think about which writers remind them of their favorite places. I think about that regarding New York all the time, but I like the scale that a nation-wide project like that suggests. In August, they published Common Ground: Around Britain with 30 Writers and it looks delightful. Take the opportunity to muse on your own favorite places that remind you of writers... or vice versa, I suppose.

How to Write a Book Review

Independent columnist Miles Kington tries to tell us all how to write a decent book review.

More on the Da Vinci Code Appeal

The two historians who lost the plagarism lawsuit against Dan Brown are back in court to launch an appeal.

Fail Better

In the Guardian, Zadie Smith talks about "literature's legacy of honorable failure." Read part one here... and part two here.

British Sex Scandals

Vanity Fair asks, Why are British sex scandals so much better than ours?

The Lost Art of the Letter

Now normally, my posting an article from "PhysicsWeb" would be somewhat laughable, but this actually pertains to my interests...
Now that e-mail has replaced letter writing as the principal means of informal communication, one has to feel sorry for future science historians, who will be unable to use letters and telegrams to establish facts and gauge reactions to events.
Read the whole article here.

1.16.2007

51% of Women...

51% of women were living without a spouse in 2005 according to census data. I can't even begin to describe the thoughts that fact conjures...

Beatles Handwritten Lyrics

Lyrics to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," handwritten by the Beatles' George Harrison, sold for more that $300,000 at auction.

Children of Men Wins Scripter's Award

Children of Men has won the USC Scripter's Award, which recognizes both the novelist and the screenwriter for a book-to-film adaptation. P.D. James (who I totally didn't know was a woman) wrote Children of Men in 1992. Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby adapted the novel into a screenplay that Cuaron directed.

Golden Globe Results

A few results from last night's Golden Globes:
Cecil B. DeMille Award
  • Warren Beatty
Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Babel
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
  • Helen Mirren - The Queen
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
  • Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
  • Dreamgirls
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
  • Meryl Streep - The Devil Wears Prada
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
  • Sacha Baron Cohen - Borat: The Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Best Director
  • Martin Scorsese - The Departed
Best Screenplay
  • Peter Morgan - The Queen
Find all the results at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's website. The BBC also gives you a few of the best quotes from the evening.

1.15.2007

Will redheads be extinct by 2100?

This article appears to have been published in 2005 and yet my mother forwarded it along today after watching a comedian on television talk about the potential extinction of redheads. While he offered to pair with any carriers of the recessive gene, I must say that my experience as a redhead is that we seldom have trouble finding partners, though his offer to help future generations retain the gene is quite generous, I'm sure.

1.12.2007

Grooming a Weatherman

Chuck the groundhog is preparing for his February 2nd gig... and while none of us want six more weeks of winter, his trainer is just hoping he doesn't bite anyone on national television.

Slavery Discussion Encouraged Through Mass Reading Project

Andrea Levy's novel Small Island is being distributed in several British cities to encourage a discussion of slavery.

France Polishes Its Politesse

Read the article in the NY Times here.

Italy Seeking "Looted" Antiques from Japan

More on "stolen" antiquities... this time, Italy is asking Japan to return approximately 100 pieces.

Dante: "not so ugly"

What makes news these days? Apparently, Dante wasn't as ugly as we all thought he was.
He may not have been exactly handsome. But, as the Italian daily La Repubblica put it bluntly yesterday, "he was less ugly than believed".
Italy's greatest poet, Dante Alighieri, has come to us down the centuries as a severe, hawk-nosed intellectual typified by the Raphael portrait now engraved on Italy's two-euro coin. But this may not be entirely accurate.
Raphael painted that portrait almost 200 years after the poet's death in 1321, and a reconstruction of his face by scientists at Bologna University, published for the first time yesterday, suggests a much less formidable-looking man. Giorgio Grupponi, who oversaw the project, said: "We've given Dante back his humanity."
Read the rest of the article in the Guardian.

1.11.2007

WGA Award Nominees

The Writer's Guild of America has announced its nominees. Go here for the full list.

Adopt a Gargoyle

Shakespeare's church in Stratford-upon-Avon is in need of funds for various necessary repairs.

Have you seen Nepal?

If the answer is no, don't worry -- the people who work for Royal Nepal Airlines evidently haven't either. The country's main airline mistakenly usurped a picture of Peru's Machu Picchu for its ad campaign "Have you seen Nepal?"

Thanks, m, for forwarding the article!

Unfilmable Novel, eh?

Time Out London discusses the "unfilmable novel" Perfume (and its recent move adaptation).

Book Freedom Day

Do you find yourself wondering when you'll ever have time to read a book for pleasure? Consider declaring a Book Freedom Day... or reassessing your reading list.

Publishers Avalon and Perseus to Merge

Read the article here.

Regional Theater in the UK

The Guardian on regional theaters holding their own without limiting themselves to reproductions of London hits.

Gather & First Chapters Contest

It's American Idol for the literary set... the public can now vote to see which book will be published in the First Chapters Contest hosted by Gather. Read about it in the NY Times here.

PS -- And here's a Guardian article, too.

1.10.2007

Poet-in-Residence

What is the purpose of a poet-in-residence? The Guardian investigates.

Historian jaywalks...

A Tufts historian (and former Oxford don) was taken down by Atlanta police... for jaywalking.

García Marquez & Vargas Llosa

Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa have been at odds for thirty years after their strong friendship disintegrated. Now there are signs of a potential reconciliation as Vargas Losa will be writing the prologue for the 40th anniversary edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

New York Subway Hero

If you saw someone fall onto the subway tracks, would you leap down to save them? Wesley Autrey would - and did - but many people would not.

Costa Book Awards

Oh, the Costa Awards... Category winners were announced. Click here for the Booktrade summary, here for the Guardian article or here for the Independent.

And more on William Boyd in the Guardian...

1.09.2007

Where are movies going?

From The New Yorker: where are movies going?

Apocalypto's UK Release

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto now holds the record for the best opening weekend for a foreign language film in the UK.

Pablo's Punks

"Modernism in the arts is 100 years old, because Pablo Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is now 100 years old." Read the article in the Guardian.

Andrew Davies

Bookslut's "Hollywood Madam" comments on the prolific Andrew Davies:
What have you done with the last twelve years? Because Andrew Davies has spent it making sure that Britain's schoolchildren need never read a classic again.
And he does them pretty darn well, too.

Psst... hey mac, wanna buy a castle?

From NY Magazine:
The towering turrets, the pine-swathed Carpathians, the wolves baying at the moon — what piece of real estate has creepier curb appeal than that thirteenth-century Transylvanian pile, Dracula's Castle? It's now on the market for $78 million, a price that would have even the most blood-sucking Manhattan brokers grasping for their silver crosses. But, then, those New York Realtors might well have an in with the owner: Sixty-nine-year-old Dominic von Habsburg lives in the Westchester burg of North Salem. Descended from Austro-Hungarian royalty, von Habsburg is a furniture designer living in a decidedly un-Gothic, one-floor contemporary. "My friends call it a house for easy living," says von Habsburg, who built the home a few years ago. "It's very airy, simple and full of light."
Read the rest of the article here. It's worth the click if only for the picture of the castle.

Judging Covers...

Bookslut judged the best covers of books for 2006 in the December issue. Now Bookslut judges the worst covers of 2006... and there were some doozies.

Biden on Plagarism and the Presidency

Senator Joe Biden credits plagarism with saving his life and making it possible for him to run for the presidency in 2008...
When Senator Joe Biden infamously plagiarised one of Neil Kinnock’s speeches 20 years ago, it destroyed his campaign to become president of the United States.
But, according to the former Labour leader yesterday, Mr Biden believed it also probably saved his life — giving him unexpected time for diagnosis and treatment of a brain condition — and gave him the chance to fight again another day.
Read the article here in the Times.

Borders Rewarding Few

If Borders expected huge loyalty to be reflected in Christmas sales after the launch of the Borders Rewards program... well, it was disappointed.

Easter Island

There's a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin has sculpted large snow moai in his front yard. As his father looks on, Calvin shouts, "What's wrong with Easter Island? I like Easter Island!"
I doubt that was my first contact with information pertaining to Easter Island, but it's actually what I always think of in association with it. Now I'm also going to include this picture from the NY Times because it looks so unreal. The article is about the moai and the island's issues with restoring the large stone statues.

Edinburgh: City of Literature

Edinburgh has been named the world's first City of Literature by UNESCO. That's old news. What's new and interesting is this: Edinburgh is promoting a citywide reading campaign and will be giving out 25,000 free copies of Robert Lewis Stevenson's Kidnapped in an effort to get a large percentage of the city to read it in the month of February. The campaign is called One Book - One Edinburgh. I may be a huge dork for saying it, but it's one of the cooler ideas I've heard of recently and I only wish I were visiting Edinburgh during the month of February. With my red hair and a copy of Kidnapped, I'd fit right in.

Sobol Prize Cancelled

From Yahoo News:
The Sobol Award, a controversial new literary contest that offered agentless writers a $100,000 first prize and a contract with Simon & Schuster for the top three winners, has been canceled.
Read the rest of the article here.

Big Night

Directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, Big Night tells the story of two brothers who own and operate a failing Italian restaurant. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is a magnificent chef who argues with customers that ask for watered-down Italian food and less-than-authentic side dishes. His brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci), runs the business end of things and is trying to hide the true state of ruin from Primo. Secondo is also trying to balance women in his love life: Phyllis (his girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver) and Gabriella (played by Isabella Rossellini). Gabriella also happens to be the wife of their rival restauranteur Pascal (Ian Holm) who may serve mediocre food, but does it with a flourish. Supposedly as a favor, Pascal arranges to have his friend, a famous jazz musician, come the brothers' restaurant for a grand dinner as a publicity stunt and so everyone comes together with all of their own issues for this one big night...

Disclaimer: you should not watch this movie on an empty stomach or during an unsatisfying meal. It's a feast for the eyes and your mouth waters throughout almost every scene -- particularly as "Mambo Italiano" plays during the final, great meal. While the movie is rooted in the relationship between the two brothers (realistically depicted in silent affection and friction-filled clashes), the supporting performers are all delightful as well. Look for Allison Janney as the florist that Primo has a crush on and Campbell Scott as the smooth-talking car salesman. While it might not be a fast-paced film, Big Night is clearly on the same level as Primo's fantastic food: prepared with loving care and an artisan's attention to detail.

College Presidents

While Harvard's presidency is to be decided soon, the NY Times looks at how precarious a position a college presidency can be these days, dependent to varying degrees upon the confidence of the faculty and students.

Skin

There's a fascinating interview in the NY Times with Dr. Nina G. Jablonski, the current head of the anthropology department at Penn State who is also a primatologist, an evolutionary biologist and a paleontologist. The topic under discussion is skin, which is actually a really interesting topic and means that at some point, I'll probably end up reading her book, too.

Check out the article here.

Harry Potter... in Latin

Tired of reading Harry Potter over and over again in English? Well, here's a new challenge for you (particularly if you never took the language in school): Harry Potter in Latin. Buy it off of BN.com from here.

Check out the Times for an article in Latin or, if you need some help, there's an English version, too.

And in other Harry Potter news, it looks like the seventh book is a bestseller through pre-orders alone.

1.08.2007

A Scanner Darkly

I haven't ever read anything written by Philip K. Dick. As a result, I think this put me at a disadvantage right at the start -- I probably wasn't ever going to get this movie, certainly not on the first try. That being said, I think the film had interesting elements to it, it's just perhaps not my cup of tea. Keanu, of course, was an ideal fit for the main character with his very particular voice and, as always, Robert Downey Jr. was great and Woody Harrelson was also quite entertaining.
This selection is from the NY Times article, which you can also find here.
Identities shift and melt like shadows in Richard Linklater's animated adaptation of "A Scanner Darkly," a look at a future that looks an awful lot like today. Based on a 1977 novel by the science fiction visionary Philip K. Dick, the semispeculative story involves a cop (call him Officer Fred) who, by assuming an undercover identity (call him Bob Arctor), is inching his way up toward a big drug bust, score by score. But there's a little problem: Fred is starting to forget he's Bob, or maybe vice versa.
Given that Fred/Bob has been regularly dropping Substance D, as in Death, tab by tab, it's no wonder he's feeling a bit off; no wonder, too, given that this is the world Philip K. Dick made. Like the writer's other worlds, that of "A Scanner Darkly" is one in which drugs predominate and reality tends to be a big question mark, hovering like an electro-colored thought bubble above characters who are more everyday normal than super-this or -that. Ordinary guys who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances like Fred/Bob, who in Mr. Linklater's film has been given seductive voice and corporeal outline by Keanu Reeves, an actor whose penchant for otherworldly types and excellent adventures make him well suited for vision quests like this one.
Even having never read Philip K. Dick, I'm well aware that he took incredible amounts of drugs. Dick went straight (well, he went into rehab and helped to counsel others) and at the end of the film, there's a long list of friends that he lost or that suffered as a result of drugs, and yet there isn't an entirely repentant tone to everything. Yes, a ridiculous amount of drugs is a bad idea, but are all drugs a bad idea? The NY Times summarizes: "Drugs are generally a bad idea in 'A Scanner Darkly,' in the book and film both, though in the novel it's the real world or what we perceive the real world to be that makes for the more obviously bad trip, not scary little pills. 'So-called "reality,"' as Mr. Dick once said, 'is a mass delusion that we've all been required to believe for reasons totally obscure.'"
One couldn't help but wonder what the experience would be like of watching this film on some kind of drug as a result of the technique used: rotoscoping. Linklater used this for an earlier film, Waking Life, and it essentially means that animators trace over live-action film. (Check out this other NY Times article that discusses animation.) While it was an intriguing thing at first, I found myself getting sick of it. "So what?" I asked myself. I'd rather see the subtleties of Robert Downey Jr.'s actual performance than this traced version of it.

Award Tracker

Wow... brought to you by Yahoo, here's a list of all the awards that the top films have won this season... so far.

Children of Men... Again

Another article from the NY Times Oscar section on Children of Men.

Picking Harvard's President

Is it possible that Harvard's next president could be a woman? A woman that's a scientist? It wouldn't be a bad idea at all.

PS -- An article from the Times on the possibility of Harvard naming a woman president.

Hitchcock Music

It's not just the visual scenes from Hitchcock's movies that haunt us... it's the music, too. Yale University Press is publishing a book to celebrate the scores that contributed to the greatness of Hitchcock's films.

Inspiration & Co.

Need a brilliant idea for a book? Okay, maybe not a brilliant idea -- but an idea? Call Working Partners, a company that will create a plot (and maybe some dialogue) before hiring a writer to fill in the details. Many of their books have been a big hit in the children's market and now they're branching out to try adult fiction.

Lyrics & Lyricists

The NY Times on great lyrics and lyricists.

George Eliot

The Guardian discusses George Eliot and her first published work.

New Potter Prize

The Christopher Little Literary Agency, who is responsible for bringing the world Harry Potter, will be giving a £1,500 prize and the chance of representation to one student at the creative writing course at City University in London. Oh, to be in England...

Brad Pitt

The latest article about potential award nominees from the NY Times:
WHILE the world was shouting Brangelina and Brad Pitt was dodging paparazzi, he also pulled off this unlikely feat: He was involved in two of the past year’s best films. In one he is a silent partner, a producer of Martin Scorsese’s “Departed.” For the other — his supporting role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s wrenching political fable “Babel” — he has become the subject of Oscar chatter and a studio campaign. Plenty of Oscar promotions exist only to massage stars’ egos, but here is a campaign that actually makes sense.
In “Babel” Mr. Pitt delivers the most mature, complex performance of his career as a distraught husband whose wife has been shot on a tour bus near an isolated Moroccan village. With little more than half an hour on screen he restores seriousness to a career that started off like a dream combination of stardom and artistry, only to veer into the realm of the truly silly.
Read the rest of the article here.

Happiness 101

The NY Times Magazine looks at happiness and positive psychology.

The History Boys

I suppose one is always curious about the things that one will never experience. For example, I wrote a twenty-page paper in college about brotherhood in Shakespeare (my focus was Much Ado About Nothing). The topic fascinated me in a way that sisterhood never could, particularly as it pertains to the classic ideas of honor, loyalty, and chivalry that at least play a more recorded role on male relationships in Shakespeare's writing.
Similarly, the idea of male education in England (particularly Oxford and Cambridge before women were allowed to attend) is a really intriguing subject. There are all kinds of novels set in universities and the more elevated purpose of education always provides a romantic backdrop for beautiful solliloquies on the meaning of life, love, and knowledge.

Enter The History Boys. Originally a play by Alan Bennett, it opened in London in 2004 to rave reviews and it scooped up several awards. 2004, you ask? That wasn't that long ago! No indeed, it wasn't -- the film version of the play was filmed in the summer of 2005 with the original cast and director. The play moved to Broadway in April of 2006 and has since returned to London. The film was released at the end of 2006 and I've just gone to see it now.

There are many reasons why I loved this film. First and foremost: the fantastic script. It's eloquent, intelligent, and soulful. I stopped trying to remember lines and resigned myself to ordering a copy of the play because there were far too many beautiful and insightful discussions and observations. Secondly, I loved the actors and their performances. Each main character was rather superb in his or her own way and the fact that these actors know the play (and each other by this point) so thoroughly is readily apparent. It helps foster the sense of camraderie that is supposed to be a large factor within this group (ahem, brotherhood). Thirdly (and here I will stop rather than bore you), it idealized Oxford and Cambridge which I can't help but get on board with. Every time they showed a spire, my heart skipped a beat and I longed to return. I miss it so.

Now, the story. The time is 1983 and the setting is a boy's school in the north of England. We concern ourselves with eight male students and three teachers (one female): the students have tested well enough that they can try for places at Oxford and Cambridge and it is the jobs of the teachers to make them as ready as possible for those entrance exams and interviews. The headmaster is desperate to have Oxbridge students as his alums (thus raising the school's reputation), so he brings in a new teacher to give the boys some polish. His name is Irwin and he has a style that is geared towards the game of admissions -- not only must you know the material backwards and forwards, you must be able to present it in an interesting way so you can differentiate yourself from all the other applicants who also know the material backwards and forwards. All the interesting "gobbets" of things (like quotations, cultural comparisons, or unique perspectives) should be thrown into an essay and called upon at an interview. Now, it helps that these boys have a tremendous amount of those "gobbets" and viewpoints, but the reason they have them is because they have been taught "general studies" by a rather eccentric, flawed and yet much-beloved teacher named Hector. Hector teaches in the philosophy of AE Housman: "all knowledge is precious whether or not it serves the slightest human use." Corpulent and generally agreeable (though he does frequently smack his students with rolled up paper), Hector has his students sing, reenact scenes from movies, and memorize poetry. He seems ideal, yes, but he also has a flaw: he tends to grope the boys when he gives them rides on his motorbike. Before you shout "pedophile" or anything like that, my own judgment is that it's an unfortunate habit of Hector's, but it isn't necessarily a horror. I echo the sentiments expressed in the NY Times review: "'The History Boys' sympathizes with Hector, whom Mr. Griffith plays not as a predator but as a lonely dreamer whose ineffectual gropes are not much different from pats on the back. These whip-smart 17- and 18-year-old students not only tolerate his fumbling advances but also accept them with good humor as expressions of devotion." The students don't report anything, but one day, Hector's actions are seen by a traffic monitor and she reports them, thus pressuring the headmaster into deal with the issue and Hector. The third and final teacher is called Tot (or Tottie) by her students and she's the most intelligent and composed of them all. She's dear friends with Hector (though she was unaware of his motorbike behavior before the headmaster tells her of the reported incident) and tries to help Irwin feel a bit more acclimated. She has a delightful rant as she tries to impress upon the boys the struggle it is for a woman to teach history because "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. History is women following behind with the bucket."

Then there are the boys. First and foremost, there is Dakin. Handsome, charming, and cocky. He is trying to seduce the headmaster's secretary and compares their interaction to the Western Front -- she rebuffs his attempt to put up his hand up her skirt by declaring it "no man's land." Later, though, Dakin's desire to please Irwin with his essays turns into a desire to turn him into a conquest. Posner, the youngest of the lot, is Jewish, gay, and hopelessly in love with Dakin -- and everyone knows it, including Dakin. Posner sings beautifully and ultimately he's the student we adore because he takes all of Hector's teachings about life to heart. Scripps is religious and serves as a friend to all (particularly Posner and Dakin), willing to listen and then responding with wit. He has a delicious roll to his accent, too. There's Rudge, the jock, who doesn't quite see the point off all this fuss to get into Oxford and Cambridge, responding to a question about history by saying that "history is just one fucking thing after another." There's a black student, a Muslim student, and an overweight one. Lockwood is ready to know how to "play the game" and then raises the issue of the army paying for one's college education. It's an interesting group, though clearly some get pushed to the side in order to highlight the others.

There's a beautiful blend of comedy and tragedy; you laugh perhaps more than you cry, but sometimes you're doing both. You won't necessarily have to Netflix this one as I'll be buying it as soon as it's available on DVD. If you're lucky, I'll let you borrow it.

Check out the trailer or read the NY Times review.

Julian Barnes: The Past Conditional

Julian Barnes writes about his family for the New Yorker.

Love's Loopy Logic

Psychology Today on "love's loopy logic."

Wilde at the Vatican

So, the Vatican refuses to think of homosexuality as anything but a "disorder," but it's okay to publish books of their aphorisms...
Oscar Wilde, poet, playwright, gay icon and deathbed convert to Catholicism, has been paid a rare tribute by the Vatican. His aphorisms are quoted in a collection of maxims and witticisms for Christians that has been published by one of the Pope’s closest aides.
Wilde (1854-1900) had long been regarded with distaste by the Vatican — a dissolute and disgraced homosexual who was sentenced for acts of gross indecency over his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas.
The book, compiled by Father Leonardo Sapienza, head of protocol at the Vatican, includes such Wildean gems as “I can resist everything except temptation” and “The only way to get rid of a temptation is yield to it” — hardly orthodox Catholic teaching.
Father Sapienza said that he had devoted the lion’s share of Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity to Wilde because he was a “writer who lived perilously and somewhat scandalously but who has left us some razor-sharp maxims with a moral”.
Read the rest of the Guardian article to try and make sense of why the Vatican is doing this.

Editor-in-chief (for a day): Orhan Palmuk

Even though he holds a degree in journalism, Orhan Palmuk has never been a practicing journalist... until now. The Turkish newspaper Radikal handed over the reigns of its Sunday edition to the novelist and Nobel-prize winner. Palmuk used his day as editor-in-chief to highlight the oppression of artists in Turkey on the front page.

Critiquing Critique

From The American Scholar:
We love stories, and we will continue to love them. But for more than 30 years, as Theory has established itself as “the new hegemony in literary studies” (to echo the title of Tony Hilfer’s cogent critique), university literature departments in the English-speaking world have often done their best to stifle this thoroughly human emotion.
Read the rest of the article here.

New York's Independent Bookstores

The NY Times looks at several New York bookstores. If you haven't been to all of them, take a weekend to wander through.

Kate Winslet

The impeccable Kate Winslet discusses her role as Sarah in Little Children, a role that will very likely earn her a fifth Oscar nomination.
SARAH PIERCE, the central figure in “Little Children,” is a mess. It goes beyond her uncombed hair, baggy overalls and rat’s-nest purse. She’s a smart woman who has somehow ended up in a dumb life that doesn’t feel like it belongs to her. In this she seems very different from the famously grounded Kate Winslet, who plays her in the Todd Field film of Tom Perrotta’s story of suburbia and its discontents.
Read the rest of the article here.

1.05.2007

Greenwashing

Why do we feel more smug when we purchase that eco-friendly product? And how much effort is put into greenwashing the American public?

Robert Stone & the East Village

The NY Times on Robert Stone and his memories of the East Village.

A Wine Connosseiur's Dream

This NY Times writer enjoys a rather singular evening of wine:
The lineup of wines to be served with dinner was extraordinary, including a Montrachet from 1939 and a Volnay Caillerets from 1929. Still, the wine I couldn’t wait to try was the ’46 Meursault Charmes.
That would be the 1846.
The dinner was in honor of Bouchard Père & Fils, the venerable Burgundy producer and négociant, which was celebrating its 275th anniversary with a tasting of some very, very old wines. It was held at the historic Château de Beaune, a 15th-century fortress here that has been the producer’s ceremonial and corporate home since 1810. In addition to the 1846, Bouchard was to pour a relative youngster, the 1865 Beaune Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus.
Both of these ancient vintages had spent their long lives in the bowels of the chateau, where thick walls keep the cellars cool and the bottles can rest undisturbed. As rare as it is to taste wines this old, it’s even more unusual to taste bottles with such an unimpeachable provenance.
Read the rest of the article here.

Springtime in January?

To say that temperatures in New York have been mild is, well, putting it mildly.

Literary Guilt Ain't What It Used to Be

Thomas Sutcliffe for the Independent:
Apparently, Stephen King is the nation's favourite guilty pleasure - which strikes me as a bit pathetic, really. I have no problem with the pleasure bit, you understand, having from time to time opened up one of King's Gothic potboilers with the crooning sigh of someone easing into a hot bath. But I'm not at all convinced that these responders really understand what literary guilt is. Don't they know that King effectively bypassed guilt several years ago? That he is a recipient of the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. That The New Yorker has published his short stories? Alibis for reading his books are thick on the ground: you could claim to be fascinated by his deconstruction of late-20th-century consumer culture, for example; or pretend to an analytical interest in his incorporation of American demotic into the authorial voice. But you certainly don't have to feel guilty.
This may be true of pretty much any book these days, of course. There's no question that literary guilt once existed. I remember, during my first week at university as a student of English, being given a brief induction by our director of studies. Read deeply and widely, he advised us, but also keep something light and frivolous beside your bed so that you can unwind after a hard day in the library stacks. His suggestion was F Scott Fitzgerald - which, from the looks on the faces of my fellow-students, didn't exactly chime with their notion of literary downtime.
Read the rest of the article here.