Friday news round-up

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.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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