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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

Book World is fired up this week. Authors, librarians, readers, and non-readers all want to have their say about thing that piss them off—literary things, of course. Today’s news round-up allows everyone, including me, equal ranting ground.

Nora Roberts is mad at romance novelist Cassie Edwards for her blatant plagiarism. Roberts tells AP: “I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t see it as fair use.” Edwards’s publisher, Penguin, and her own husband are standing by her. “She doesn’t lift passages,” Charles Edwards told AP. Edwards herself said, in her AP interview that she indeed gets “ideas” from “reference books” but did not know she was supposed to credit her sources. The linked article compares Edwards’s Savage Longings (1997) with George Bird Grinnell’s The Cheyenne Indians (1928). The passages quotes are almost exactly the same. Penguin, which also publishes Roberts, will surely have some backpedaling to do in the near future.

Julia Alvarez is mad at Johnson County, North Carolina schools for banning her book, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez is quoted: “The novel is no slight ‘pornographic’ hack work that got into curriculum as a misguided selection by clueless teachers who are corrupting the minds of young people. Perhaps the high school teachers who selected the novel for Johnston’s high school students knew (they) were in fact making an informed and intelligent choice.” Right on. Apparently, some slightly racy paragraphs in the book led to the ban.

I am mad at Lisa Schroeder for dreaming up, writing, and publishing a story I write when I was 10. The Beaverton Times quotes Schroeder: “I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died in a tragic accident, but he loved her so much that he came back as a ghost. I remember waking up and feeling their love so strongly, I had to go to the computer and start writing their story that morning.” Simon and Schuster are publishing the book called I Heart You, You Haunt Me. My story was about a girl called Odessa, who meets this guy, called Clover, and they fall in love. And we learn later that he is the ghost of the boyfriend she really loved that died. It was called Four Leaf Clover. Damn you, Lisa Schroeder! If someone dreams about, writes, and publishes a book about a saxophone playing vampire who steals schoolgirls for his harem, I’ll know I’m bugged.

Wellington librarians are mad are mad at book thieves. Stuff NZ reports: “The capital’s public library users owe almost $900,000 in overdue fines, forcing Wellington City Libraries to call in debt collectors for some of the worst cases. Of that, $720 is overdue fines and the rest is fees for replacement costs. Library staff say books about the paranormal, witchcraft, psychic abilities, true crime, tattoos and Hitler are among the most likely to be overdue.” At my video store, it’s wrestling and porn. That last bit is a bit of a phenomenon. My mum is a librarian here in town and she says exactly the same books go missing from her library all the time. Apparently, books for new mums go quite frequently, too.

Missy Chase Lapine is mad at Jerry Seinfeld’s wife for stealing her ideas. Apparently, Jessica Seinfeld ripped off Lapine’s idea for a book featuring recipes for kids. She is suing for copyright infringement and defamation. This actually gives me hope that I might be able to sue Lisa Schroeder for the same thing.

Hollywood screenwriters are so mad about their lack of work, they’ve taken to writing kids books to relieve aggression. In a way. I actually can’t wait for some of these. The article reports: “Former Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle writer David Sacks, who is now an executive producer on Comedy Central’s The Root of All Evil, is writing Vigfus, a story about Vikings who come to contemporary New York and find the city too tame for their tastes, the entertainment industry trade paper said. Former Raven executive producer Dava Savel is composing a tale about a boy who creates his own town to avoid his sister.” The books will be published by Worthwhile Book, an IDT/IDM imprint.

And finally…

Britain is mad her citizens don’t read enough. This is something we’ll be getting into a bit more next week. This year is Britain’s National Year of Reading and already debate is raging about the benefits of books. Does reading make you more intelligent? How much does one have to read to be considered a reader in the first place? There’s a lot to discuss on this subject. For now, I’m linking this article mostly for the reader comments at the bottom. The gist of the piece is that one in four Britons admits they have not read a book in over a year. And, apparently, lots of them say they have read books they haven’t read just to seem more intelligent. Some highlights in the Reader Comments section:

“I don’t understand this fascination about adults not reading books. It doesn’t make you any more intelligent if you read a book or two a year. Can adults who read Harry Potter stories, Jackie Collins, Jeffrey Archer or any other novel or biography really to claim to be more intelligent. In fact I would go as far as saying reading fiction possibly lowers the intelligence, and reading biographies lowers it even more. Especially if you include the people whose biographies sell well such as Jordan, any of the Spice Girls, anybody who wins the jungle show and any modern celebrity.” Yes, he said reading fiction lowers intelligence. And not all readers, my friend, read Spice Girl memoirs. Although, I have read Geri’s.

Another one:
“It’s not that we don’t want to read. It’s simply this drivel they publish nowadays and try to pass it off as bestsellers. There’s nothing to read! No thanks. I’d much rather read a good article online.”

And finally…
“I think people would be better of trying to think of ways to improve the world rather than wasting their lives reading any sort of book.”

I don’t even know what to say.




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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

In the city of Nezahualcoyotl, 60 miles east of Mexico City, police supervisors had a great idea a few years back about introducing their rank and file officers (many of whom had been ill-served by the country’s wretched school system) to works of great literature. Problem was, it didn’t work. The men were bored and inattentive. Then one of the regional chiefs had an idea: he cracked open Don Quixote and translated it into an idiom the officers understood: police radio codes. Pretty soon the officers were asking for more books. In Manuel Roig-Franzia’s fascinating dispatch for the Washington Post, he talks about how the cops went to work on the first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which as you’ll recall, starts like this:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Once translated into police code, this is how it read:

Many alfas later, in front of a 44 squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía had a 60 about that distant afternoon when his father 26 him to 62 ice.

Whatever works.

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Friday, Jan 11, 2008

In a CNET article, Trent Raznor said that he was disappointed with the sales of the Saul Williams album he did but what makes this newsworthy is that this was yet another online experiment in pass-the-hat (getting consumers to pay what they want, like Radiohead).  He was disappointed with this figure: “154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5 as of January 2.”  That comes out to less than 20% of the people willing to shell out five bucks for an album.  But Williams himself in a separate interview with CNET saw things differently.

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Friday, Jan 11, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Trans Am

Trans Am

Today’s the day to wear orange to voice your support for the closing of Guantánamo Bay. The ACLU has organized this visual, political effort and is calling on people opposed to torture and indefinite detention to show their thoughts by donning orange garb today. Find out more about what you can do and how to get involved on the ACLU site.

Here’s what a few folks you may know have to say on the issue:

“I’ll be wearing orange because I believe in human rights.”
Susan Sarandon

“I’ll be wearing orange because this prolonged torture is obscene, nakedly sadistic and patently un-American.”
Henry Rollins

“I am wearing orange because respecting human rights is the only way to preserve humanity.”
Gloria Reuben

“I am wearing orange to help bring back the dignity our country has lost as a result of Guantánamo. We must join together in solidarity to demand the immediate closure of this shameful prison. It has tarnished America’s image in the world and continues to be a symbol of torture and injustice.”
Meshell Ndegeocello

“Guantanamo Bay is un-American.  That’s why it’s in Cuba.”
Phil Manley, Trans Am

“Everybody has the right to be treated justly and the injustices and corruption of this facility has already been exposed.”
One Be Lo

“I wanted to get involved with this cause because I feel no matter the situation, human rights come first”.
Rasco, (one half of Cali Agents and solo emcee from NorCal)

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Thursday, Jan 10, 2008

It will be interesting to see what the press conference scheduled for 13 January brings. For the first time in many, many years, the Golden Globes, the more party/perfunctory wrap up of the annual awards season is unable to shower the deserving and the questionable (Pia Zadora?) with their tiny trophies. Thanks to the writer’s strike, and the complementary decision by the Screen Actors Guild to honor same, there will be no soirées, no foreign press corps preening, no bifurcated categories, and perhaps most importantly, no early gauge as to who and what might walk away with an Oscar come 24 February.

Film fans have had a love/loathe relationship with the blatant schmooze/shill fest since it dropped the outsider pose (with all its easily bribed and/or bought rewards) and became an Academy bookie. It used to be that the Globes played also-ran to the more formidable, formal cinematic BMOC. But by trying to legitimize itself as more critical and less comical, performers and studios have seen the event as a excellent catalyst. It’s a way of building momentum for an underdog. They’ve also used is as a way of gaining recognition for an unheralded project/person or plugging the gaps in a failing publicity campaign.

But thanks to a unionized effort to get already well paid insiders a few cents more for their services, the Golden Globes are forced to cancel this year’s ceremony. Even a proposed plan to have presenters travel to the different industry parties and hand out trophies to the winners was nixed. With Oscar nervous, and sponsor ABC jockeying to prevent a similar situation, we could be facing an awards season without the very thing that makes it attractive/aggravating - the self-serving spectacle of an overproduced, overlong, self-serving ceremony. Unlike the year where a walk out by baseball players caused the cancellation of the World Series, however, few will probably bemoan the loss of the famed black-tie blight.

The sports analogy is viable since, for many outside the Hollywood wire, the strike appears like two groups of unfathomably wealthy individuals arguing over who gets the last serving of caviar. Of course, that’s unfair and untrue, but we’re talking about the all important concept of perception here, not the clauses and subsections of a collective bargaining agreement. There is much more on the table than the money derived from the medium’s rapid digitization, but tell that to the family unable to afford a night at the movies, or the triple digit cable bill, and you’ll find little sympathy. This is not meant as a slam against workers demanding their rights. It’s just a reminder that not everyone sees this as a selfless stand.

Cancelling shows that most outside the business already dismiss may not be the best strategy. It will win a few fans - on a recent podcast, Clerks king Kevin Smith said he’d LOVE to see awards season reduced to a series of brief, by the book announcements - while others have lamented the fact that artists who’ve worked, sometimes for years, are not being allowed that additional moment in the limelight that a nomination (and potential win) provides. It’s an intriguing concept, since a statuette and a gift bag are nice. But in a realm where everything is ego, is that five minutes of mega-fame, followed by a network mandated musical cue play-off, the ultimate validation?

Think of it this way - you spend years working at crap jobs and minimal corporate positions, all in pursuit of a single, always elusive goal. You try, are turned back, and try again. You make inroads only to have the pathway ripped up and placed along some other topography. Somehow, through persistence, place, and a good deal of personal sacrifice, you make it in. You’re talent is rewarded, you never again have to sling hash or wonder if someone would like fries with that. Your friends and family finally stop thinking of you as a slightly insane pipe dreamer, and your every career wish is now just a mere pitch/contract/greenlight away.

Now, let’s go a step further. Let’s say that the fruit of your intense, lifelong labors have finally come to fruition. Success - measured in money or mentions - is here, and it feels oh so good. Then, something wonderful happens. Said triumph turns back at you, and your peers are demanding to recognize and reward you. It begins with those typically critical of your career, and then begins to bubble up from those who you directly compete with. Before long, certificates and other swag are shoved in your direction, with promises of the big party just around the corner. That’s right, the ultimate goal, the final fulfillment of all you’ve worked for…and then the door is closed. No one is invited, no one is allowed to attend.

No matter how nominal, actors and actresses, writers and directors, tech people and other production crew work damn hard for something like the Globes. For every person recognized, thousands would kill just for the off chance at replacing them. Receiving an award, like recent Emmy recipient Kathy Griffin noted, means that every time someone mentions your name, they have to preface it with “X Winner…” such and such. So forget all the George C. Scott/Marlon Brando machinations about rejecting competition among fellow artists - in a biz that will spit you out quicker than it will ever embrace you (especially in the talent interchangeable ‘00s) - reducing any award, by definition, lessens its significance.

Someone like Diablo Cody must be shifting uncomfortably in her ex-stripper pants right about now. As the out of nowhere flavor du jour in this awards season (she wrote the pop culture reference heavy script for Juno), she’s that highly touted talent who, on a yearly basis, gets both sides of the issue enflamed. Some see her as a new, novel voice in a realm where everything is predictable and pat. Others view her as Quentin Tarantino after one too many estrogen laced pixie sticks. Whatever the case, Cody has enough steam to plow through the next few months with many trophies, a fashion faux pax or two, and a three picture deal from some suckered studio.

But instead of getting to gloat over all this ‘sudden’ success, Ms. Cody gets to protect the picket lines. As numerous critics groups hand out their plaudits, she gets to sit at home and enjoy an indirect moment of satisfaction. If the Oscars should be cancelled, or truncated somehow, the biggest moment in what could be a very short career as a screenwriter will be traded for some far off monetary equilibrium. And let’s say the writers fail to win their position. Will someone like Cody appreciate the fact that her one chance at universal acknowledgement came at the expense of a losing cause? For an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis or Johnny Depp, the Golden Globes and The Academy will probably be everpresent concerns. But many first timers will feel the pinch come the time to rip open the envelope.

Of course, no one will miss the bad speeches, the political grandstanding, the numerous mentions of God, Jesus, the little people, “everyone I’m forgetting”, the bad presenter banter or horrendous ‘live’ versions of the Best Song. The spectacle of seeing your favorite film star bathed in the glory of his celebrity constituency will be lost, but so will a great deal of needless pomp and backslapping circumstance. Besides, Oscar tends to get it wrong more times than not. Do we really need to see another Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan moment, or the long lapsed recognition of someone (Spielberg, Scorsese) who should have been acknowledged decades before? Being out of touch is one thing. Having such a stance forced upon you by disgruntled employees just may be the remedy the entire system needs.

Shake up or not, it will be interesting to see what happens come Sunday. How will the media treat the marginalized moment? How much play will the Writer’s Guild get, and will their message be mired in the appearance of arrogant impropriety? Frankly, will anyone outside the obsessive really care that there’s no glitzy show biz-y banquet, that their favorite faces aren’t gussied up in red carpet accoutrement waiting for an entertainment talking head to ask them who designed their duds?

As with any ongoing issue, the strike will harm more everyday elements (favorite TV shows, upcoming movie releases) than a once a year entity of entitlement. Yet when a labor disagreement can adversely effect the most superficial of spectacle (cue Golden Globes theme song), it may be time to reconsider the structure all together. Maybe it’s time to revamp the entire awards season strategy once and for all. It’s been a long time coming. A passive approach only guarantees that someone - or something - else will end up doing it for you…and you see how that’s worked out so far.

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