Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007

“Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?” It’s hard to imagine this scenario of Gaia-istic empathy actually happening, but it is nonetheless an interesting question, particularly when one considers the source. Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us is a doomsday scenario but a more thoughtful kind; one that’s focused not so much on how the human race vacates Earth—deadly plague, the Rapture, sudden discovery of interstellar flight and innumerable inhabitable planets within easy range—but on what happens afterward. What does the planet do without humans around doing all of that building, eating, breathing, and polluting that we’re known for? How fast does the kudzu grow back over all those chain stores? Would the planet actually be able to repair itself in any decent amount of time or has the devastation been too serious? Does the earth retreat to a serene garden like in the Talking Heads’ “Flowers” (“There was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered with flowers”)?

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Sunday, Aug 5, 2007

Jon Krakauer on his recent rereading of Capote’s In Cold Blood:


“After I learned of his boast that he wrote all the dialogue from memory, much of it struck me as having been invented.”


You know, that’s a good point. A good point, of course, only a writer of Krakauer’s intensity is allowed make and not seem snide, bitchy, or entirely misinformed. He makes the statement in the 13 August issue of Newsweek in an article focusing mainly on his five favourite books, Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father and Tracy Kidder’s House among them. Capote’s groundbreaker falls under the provocative category “a classic that, upon re-reading, [I found] disappointing”.


This tiny, fascinating article sent me on a mission to find other lists, in which published authors discuss their favourite books. Lists aplenty showed up on my Google search—though, sadly, not so many “classics that really suck” lists, but I’m still looking. Here’s a sample ...


My First Literary Crush at Slate.com
Check out what Harold Bloom, Christopher Hitchens, and Judd Apatow found ‘mesmerizing” in college. It’s a good list, if a little bit male (though a Seinfeld writer lists Erica Jong as influential, which shakes things up slightly).


Barnes and Noble: Meet the Writers
These snippety interviews / profiles are excellent in gaining better insight into your favourite writers. Check out the “author recommendations” sections and find out what Lisa See, Chuck Klosterman, and Gregory Maguire want us to read over the summer.


Best Adaptations at Book Forum
A bit off-track but nonetheless fascinating, this recent Book Forum article is essentially a list of authors’ favourite film adaptations. Armond White, Joy Press, and Francine Prose are among the participants. 


What Writers Read at The Main Switch
This article from late last month takes a close look at what local Maine authors are reading over the summer. Meet Joel Ross, Lily King, and Hannah Holmes and discover just how diverse and exciting their reading choices are.


As for books not to read, the best I could find was Lucy Day’s Books I Hate webpage. She hates a lot, particularly books by L. Ron Hubbard. Her summation of Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman: “This book is supposedly fantasy/horror. Emphasis on the horror. I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, but this is not a genre I am comfortable with. Noble quest, yes.  Magical worlds and creatures, yes. But worth reading?  No.”


Fair enough. Still, there’s just not enough author-hate out there. Like I said, I’m looking.


 


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Wednesday, Aug 1, 2007

The Laura Albert / JT Leroy fraud case might be over, but I figure Albert’s arguments as far as Leroy’s “existence” will become an unsolved artistic mystery to be debated for the ages. Albert claims that the abused, tortured young Leroy was an aesthetic tool created to allow her freedom to write down all those things she couldn’t bring herself to face. (The story goes that much of what LeRoy writes, Albert experienced.) The claim isn’t all that incredible considering the same thing apparently happens when writers use the “Anonymous” nom de plume—just ask Nikki Gemmell. Albert, though, might have gotten away with her method had she not signed tax cheques in LeRoy’s name. She also went so far as to have friend Savannah Knoop dress up as LeRoy to attend interviews and parties.


From BBC News:


She denied the character was a hoax, saying she believed LeRoy was inside her. “It was my respirator,” she told the court in New York. “If you take JT, you take my other and I die.”



Then what’s Knoop? Apparently Knoop was as attached to LeRoy—her reasons, though, are yet to be substantially argued. Whatever the case, Albert has lost this round. Antidote Films, which was slated to make a film from LeRoy’s book, Sarah, sued the author for fraud. They called the LeRoy situation “one of the biggest literary hoaxes of all time”. Albert now owes Antidote $350,000. The New York Times has a piece here.


This piece in the The Independent digs right to the bone of the issue and presents several of Albert’s artistic ideals as clearly as to (almost) make them believable. Still, it’s rather coincidental that LeRoy is officially “out” of Albert now that no one is able to witness the character’s “taking over” of the author. Albert sure recovered quickly from her psychological quibbles (so big they required this level of public deception). And is anyone really questioning the author’s right to a pseudonym? Not really. The problem here is the heavily disguised waif-like being who pretended to be LeRoy on the arms of Winona Ryder and Courtney Love.


James Stafford, a friend of Albert’s, reveals in The Independent the lengths to which the Albert group went in perpetuating their hoax. What kind of aesthetic tool needs to be calmed at an interview with “a Bible and a Barbie doll” only to end up jumping on a couch playing with a fairy wand? Again, Albert’s story could have seemed credible if not for some of that other wildness.


What a mess. 


LeRoy might be unpublishable, but he’s apparently still a bankable product. The IMDb lists an Untitled JT LeRoy Project scheduled for 2008.


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Tuesday, Jul 31, 2007
by Connie Ogle
First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel

First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel
by Jasper Fforde
Viking ($24.95)


There is simply so much you don’t know about fiction: Thomas Hardy’s novels used to be hilarious, but someone made off with the humor. There was once a shocking outbreak of sensible behavior in Othello. Only 15 pianos exist in literature, and so they must be endlessly shuffled from Bleak House to The Mill on the Floss to Heart of Darkness and so on. Mistakes happen; one piano ended up in Miss Bates’ parlor in Emma, and Frank Churchill had to take the rap for dumping it there.


Such unsettling events occur regularly in the Bookworld, born in the furiously agile imagination of Jasper Fforde, creator Thursday Next of Jurisfiction, a literary detective whose adventures stretch uproariously across four novels (The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten). Fforde has shaken up genres—fantasy, comedy, crime, sci fi, parody, literary criticism—and come up with a superb mishmash with lots of affectionate in-jokes for any book lover.


In the aptly titled First Among Sequels—tough call, but there’s a good chance it’s the best of Fforde’s novels—Thursday is no longer working SpecOps, or at least not to her husband Landen’s knowledge. He thinks she’s laying carpet, but she’s still leaping in and out of assorted prose and contending with non-literary mayhem. The genre wars continue, with Racy Novel’s threats to drop a dirty bomb into “Mrs. Dalloway.” Time may be coming to an end. The ruling Commonsense Party is running up an ominously high Stupidity Surplus (“Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness, and tolerance”).


Worst of all is the introduction of Reality Book Shows, which will rewrite the classics based on audience approval. First up: Pride and Prejudice.


Fforde, also author of the even sillier Nursery Crimes series, is not even close to running out of targets. His satire is relentless and inspired; even his throwaway one-liners hit home: “The MAWk-15H virus has once again resurfaced in Dickens, particularly in the Death of Little Nell, which is now so uncomfortably saccharine that even our own dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell complained.”


Thursday may face a threat against reading in the Bookworld, but in the real world, thanks to the witty Fforde, she can rest assured that the demise of the book has never seemed more unlikely.


Connie Ogle
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)


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Monday, Jul 30, 2007

An old truism goes that when Catholics sin, they go to confession, but when Protestants sin, they go out and buy a book (it didn’t say anything about what Mormons do). If that rule still applies today, then Protestants are doing a whole lot of sinning. Buried in this BBC News story about how Wal-Mart will soon be stocking an entire line of Bible-based action figures like Goliath and Sampson (a simultaneously surprising and yet terrifying prospect), is this little nugget: Sales of religious books in America went up 5.6% in 2006. And apparently Christian book-buyers spend half as much again on books as the average American. So whatever those atheists, and other non-Christian religious types are doing with their time, it doesn’t appear to be reading.


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