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Friday, Sep 21, 2007

Superbad hits it big, America Ferrara wins and Emmy, and nerds are cool again. Or are they?


By the time I was asked to care whether one pasty white guy beat another pasty white guy in reaching Donkey Kong’s legendary “kill screen,” I was off the bus. Geeks may be Hollywood’s idea of a politically correct hero—who could object to the 95-pound weakling getting the girl?—but by summer’s end, the revenge of the nerds was beginning to feel like a permanent occupation.


That’s Ann Hornaday, reporting on the rRise of Nerdcore at the Washington Post. She’s not convinced. Lynn Andriani might be, though—she offers another take on the current fashionableness of the nerd at Publishers Weekly with reviews of two new books on nerd culture: Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them by David Anderegg and American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent. Hers is a celebration of nerddom—check out the list of literary nerd heroes at the article’s close.


 


 


 


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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2007

You go away for a few days…


I’ve been without my beloved Internet for going on a week now, which means I’ve heard precious little in the way of news. I heard second and third hand about the Chasers awesome arrest, I had to text five different people to find out who got booted from Idol on Monday night as I missed the eviction show, and I hit the IMDb in haste today to see how Ricky Gervais went at the Emmys. Pointless entertainment news is why the Internet was invented, right?


While it’s good I finally get to see the Britney video everyone’s talking about (this week has really demonstrated to me how quickly hot news becomes old news), I did not enjoy booting up today to find out authors Madeleine L’Engle and Robert Jordan had passed. While not especially fond of the works of either, I know how much they’ve given to my best friend, who will be as shocked when I relay the news to her (she has no Internet at all—and sometimes I envy her).


The BBC reports on Jordan’s death.


The New York Times has a piece on Ms. L’Engle.


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Wednesday, Sep 5, 2007

It can come off as arrogance, sensitivity, or a noble dissent—a high-minded refusal to engage with America’s culture of celebrity, erosion of privacy and self-promotion. It may be just the wishful fantasy that their books might arrive unmediated, might “speak for themselves.”


Great piece in the LA Times this week about reclusive authors and the reasons they shield their faces from public view. Salinger and Pynchon are included, along with author Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son, the new Tree of Smoke).


 


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Monday, Sep 3, 2007

Alice Leccese Powers looks back at Alice McDermott’s The Night in this week’s “You Must Read This” on NPR. Powers considers the book an exploration into her own childhood on Long Island, and that the McDermott “claims Long Island her territory, just as surely as Faulkner’s was Mississippi.”


I read The Night in 1992, shortly before the movie version hit VHS. My friends and I loved C. Thomas Howell in those pants, and Juliette Lewis in that skirt, and we knew how Alice felt in her worship of their characters, Rick and Sheryl. We idolised them, too. At that time, alongside Where the Day Takes You, That Night was the movie we most wanted to inhabit. But our reaction to the film, and my reaction to the book, were markedly different to Powers’. Growing up in suburban Long Island was, quite literally, worlds away from rural Victoria. Us rural kids really didn’t have a romantic rebel to drool over, or a beautiful, misunderstood urchin to emulate. Neighbors didn’t interact, and folks generally stayed out of each others’ business. We went to school, we went home, and we waited to grow up.


No one was writing about our experiences—the sun-drenched Goulburn Valley was no one’s idea of fertile literary territory,  and so we adopted Sheryl and Rick as our own, and we talked about them, dissected their personalities, and stuck their pictures in frames—a far more intimate form of tribute that simply pinning their posters to the wall.


In our minds, the world was just like McDermott’s. We didn’t long for disaffected teens to get pregnant just so we could awe at them, but we wanted heroes, boys and girls who stood out, because no one stood out in our town. So, while Powers remembers That Night as representative of her experience, I remember it as opening my friends and I up to experiences we would otherwise never have known existed. Even though we didn’t see them, there were rebels out there, and our time would come. 


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Thursday, Aug 30, 2007

You have to wonder if the manuscript for The Uncommon Reader had been just sitting in Alan Bennett’s trunk gathering dust for years, its every attempt at publication rejected by publishers prior to the success of last year’s film The Queen, after which gently entertaining tales about the Queen Mother told from her point of view became much more salable. Whatever the case may be, Bennett’s novella is a charming little diversion that will leave Angolphiles sighing with pleasure and most everyone else grinning, if a touch underwhelmed.


Bennett’s conceit here is that one day the Queen (or she refers to herself in conversation, “One”) happens to be walking the corgis on the grounds when she comes across the palace bookmobile. Thinking it would be rude not to take a book, she checks out an Ivy-Compton Burnett title and heads on her way. This simple act leads to Her Majesty opening up whole new vistas in her heretofore-unreflective life. One book leads to another and soon she is devouring the printed word by the bushel, always with a stack on the nightstand and one or more in her purse. She even keeps one open in her lap while in the car, absent-mindedly waving to her subjects.


A wit of no little talent, Bennett has a good time with his little fancy of an idea, smartly wielding some trademark dry Anglo understatement: When the Queen tells her husband that there’s a bookmobile on the grounds, he responds, “Jolly good. Wonders never cease.” Although the author is wise not to dig too deeply into his subject (this is thin terrain), he gets good mileage out of observing the Queen’s developing tastes—she absolutely devours Proust, but while reading Henry James at teatime, lets out an irritated, “Oh do get on”—and watching how her growing obsession affects her abilities to act Queenly. As state functions become more and more tedious, she looks to literature for escape. Stuck next to the president of France, she asks him for his opinion on Jean Genet (hasn’t heard of him). Later, she survives a painfully boring trip to Canada only by a chance meeting with Alice Munro whom she got talking to and, “learning that she was a novelist and short-story writer, requested one of her books, which she greatly enjoyed.” Such are the perks of royalty.


Although it may be difficult to peruse The Uncommon Reader without imagining Helen Mirren voicing her lines (there are worse things), and won’t take you more than a couple hours to finish, Bennett’s sliver of a story is a perfectly enjoyable take on the joys and dangers of literature.


It just may not be worth $15.


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