Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels # 9: Devil In A Blue Dress, Walter Mosley

Director/Writer Carl Franklin, whose credits include One True Thing, A False Move, and the upcoming HBO Miniseries The Pacific, focused his talents on bringing to life Walter Mosley's Devil In A Blue Dress. He succeeded more than admirably. Capturing the noirish atmosphere and tone of Postwar Los Angeles, Franklin orchestrates his cast through the detective story with ease. A story about a missing white woman who's the girlfriend of a mayoral candidate. Our leading man Easy "Ezekiel" Rawlins is played by Denzel Washington. At the peak of his acting prowess, Mr. Washington commands the screen. Although there are aspects of Easy's life that were omitted from the film, you never feel cheated. He's a man looking to provide for himself even though his surroundings might dictate otherwise.
In this sort of film, supporting characters are very important. They have to be unforgettable and compliment the protagonist. For Easy Rawlins, Mouse Alexander, played by Don Cheadle, fits the job and does it very well. Dangerous. Violent. Funny. These all describe this character. When things are getting a bit too much for Easy to handle on his own, he puts in a call to Mouse in Texas. He steals every scene. I'll go as far as to say he steals scenes from Denzel too. Denzel, like I'm on a first name basis with the cat.... anyway to some the story doesn't match with the tone of a noir film, Mosley's stories always have a socio-political message within the car chases, the gun shots and sultry love sequences. In 2010, there's supposed to be another Easy "Ezekiel" Rawlins story hitting the big screen called Little Scarlett. Hopefully audiences will get to experience the underappreciated works of Walter Mosley.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Strange Things in Used Books

As a buyer and seller of used books, we find a lot of unusual items tucked away between their pages: receipts, notes, poems, photographs. Earlier this week, we found something truly amazing. Which is the real cover?
Hint: not this one, though judging by the haunted expression I can only imagine that must have been one harrowing lecture on russian literature. It's sort of like Penguin's draw your own cover line of books, but creepier.

Friday Roundup

William Wordsworth, 7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850


ITEM: A collection of letters in which English Romantic poet Lord Byron calls his most noted Romantic colleague "William Turdsworth" was sold at auction by Sotheby's yesterday. He also talks smack about Christianity ("The Basis of your religion is injustice"), and praises the Portuguese ("[they] have few vices except lice and sodomy"). The parcel of letters ultimately went for £277,250. Given the exchange rate, and the current health of the U.S. economy, what is that? Like a billion dollars?

ITEM: Phaidon Press is opening a new "pop-up" bookstore in SoHo. What the heck are pop-up stores? Sadly, not a store specializing in pop-up books. It's a store that's only open for a few weeks and then closes forever. Kind of like those people in the mall who sell porcelain cats and embroidered pillows around Mothers' Day. Rizzoli did one a little while back. I think it's mostly suited to the bookstore-as-giftshop approach to bookselling, which is why it only seems art-book publishers are doing it.

ITEM: Recipients of the Whiting Writers' Award were announced today. The Whiting is awarded to new, "emerging" authors of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays. The cats on the list of winners are, unsurprisingly, unknown to me, but I'll have to check some out. And while Rajiv Joseph is originally from Cleveland, he's now a Brooklynite. Go Brooklyn.

ITEM: J.R.R. Tolkien is officially the highest-paid dead writer, and no doubt a source of infinite inspiration for dead writers everywhere.

[Image of Wordsworth from Project Gutenberg by way of Wikimedia Commons]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures from the Archives of The Anne Frank House

Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank from The Diary of Anne Frank, but this book is a pictorial view of her life before the Holocaust through many family pictures taken by her father, Otto Frank. When Anne Frank was young, her father found it important to take pictures of his family. Unlike her Diary, we can now view the happier life she lived before the tragedy of WWII.

We see pictures of Anne as a baby, being held by her sister as an infant, through childhood, with school and birthday parties, and into the beginning of her teenage life. Pictures from the beach, the park and her home. Pictures with her family, and others of her doing her normal activities: school homework, reading and even sun bathing on the back of her house.

Throughout the book are quotes from Anne's Diary. Comments about pictures but also what was going on around the time the photo was taken. For a young teen, we can see that she was very witty and very smart. It brings her Diary to life with the way her quotes are incorporated into the photos.

This book talks about the history. What was happening when and even on into the Secret Annex years of her life. But what makes this story whole, is they have contacted people who were with Anne and her sister, Margot in the concentration camps, from the beginning of their stay, to the end of their lives. The book also shows life after the Holocaust with pictures of the Annex and pictures of her diary. How her father came to the agreement to publish her Diary and the movies and plays that would come from her Book.

She writes in her Diary, "You've known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer... In any case, after the war I'd like to publish a book called The Secret Annex." This truly shows her happiness, her sadness, and the true life of Anne Frank.
Books spied on the train: Pursuit of Love/Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince, by JK Rowling (twice!)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Five Vampire Novels You've Never Heard Of

Vampires are big these days.

You may have noticed.

You've either read or chosen not to read most of the big contenders, but the "Great Vampire Rush of 2009" isn't all there is. Here, in no particular order, are five novels you might want to check out.

Baltimore, by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden

You might recognize Mike Mignola as the creator of Hellboy (and the comic books, and the movies...). He also put together Baltimore, the story of a WWI veteran's quest to slay a vampire. As gritty and weird as the rest of Mignola's work, this old-school vampire hunt is also illustrated throughout by Mignola himself.

Necroscope, by Brian Lumley

And oddball classic of pulpy horror, Necroscope follows the exploits of a young Necroscope -- that is, a guy blessed/cursed with the ability to speak to the dead -- recruited by the supernatural arm of the British Secret Service which specializes in "ESPionage" (yes, that's what they call it" in order to stop an ancient vampire and his Soviet minions. If that doesn't sound sufficiently crazy, I don't know where else to send you.

Fledgling, by Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler's dissection of the vampire mythos is well-known for reason -- as equal parts vampire novel and exploration of race and gender politics, Fledgling, the story of an amnesiac 11-year-old (???) "vampire" has long been one of those genre novels suitable for "serious" discussion.

13 Bullets, by David Wellington

High-octane action from the author of the equally over-the-top Monster Island. 13 Bullets was originally published in installments on the author's blog, and is certainly paced to move. Bullets puts a spin on the traditional vampire story by setting it in a world where vampires are known to exist, and the task of hunting them falls to the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- and the FBI's best vampire-hunter is the aging, hard-as-nails Jameson Arkeley. 13 Bullets, the first of a series, is also notable for its monstrous, shark-like depiction of vampires -- so if you're just about tired of your vampires wearing their weight in make-up, it's worth checking out.

Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

Written way back in 1975, Salem's Lot -- only the second novel by King -- hasn't been fresh and new for about thirty years, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. Hefty and massive (although a little more manageable than King's later brick, The Stand), the novel concerns the town of Jerusalem's Lot and the numerous problems that pop up when you have a vampire hunting your town and turning your neighbors into 'vamps' with increasing frequency. Salem's Lot was re-published in 2005 with illustrations and fifty some-odd pages worth of deleted material.

EVENT: October 28, 5pm, Brooklyn College

TODAY: The great Leonard Lopate of The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC Radio will have a chat with Ernesto Mestre (The Second Death of Unica Aveyano), Joshua Henkin (Matrimony, A New York Times Notable Book for 2007), Meera Nair (Video), and Amy Hempel (The Dog of the Marriage) about their works, and about being professional writers teaching aspiring new writers in the MFA Fiction Program of Brooklyn College.

We'll certainly be there, bearing the works of all the participants, which'll range from $9 to $11. The event itself is, of course, FREE.

5:00pm - Woody Tanger Auditorium, Brooklyn College
2900 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210
BC at Google Maps

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Punisher MAX (Volume 1), Garth Ennis

For a long time, Punisher fandom was in my mind, part of a horrifying Venn Diagram that interesected with sets for Evil Ernie and Lobo. Consequently, I avoided the franchise. Until a friend, who is maybe now my best friend, demanded I take home his X-Box and Punisher game. It's an amazing game, so amazing that I eagerly tucked into its source material.

Ennis tears into the meat of what it means to be the Punisher, an antihero it is remarkably easy to feel for. After all, his one-man war on crime was only declared after his entire family was killed by the mob. But Ennis persists in keeping the body count high, and asks if Frank Castle is still doing the wrong thing for right reasons. It's not about whether or not the Punisher is a bad person, it's about whether or not the Punisher is even human anymore. Is he exploiting the death of his family in the service of his own psychological shortcomings? Has he always been? What means this mayhem when it broken his humanity?

The point is made that crime never ends, that "it claims its victims, accidental or intended. And as long as people want the things the law forbids them having, nothing you or I or anyone can do will make a difference." Microchip argues that Frank knows this but does what he does anyway. This book basically belongs to the exchanges they have about choice, conscience and control.

It's heavy, thinking reading with flashes of Ennis' dark humor. His run continues on for several trades, all of which I recommend reading. It's a bloody, fantastic arc.

Dungeons & Dragons: Primal Power, Mike Mearls, et al.

As might be readily apparent, we're pretty nerd-heavy here at the Brooklyn outpost of Shakespeare & Co. Lit nerds, theatre nerds, sci-fi nerds, gamer nerds--all roads high and low that lead to role playing games. The entire store is part of the same Dungeons & Dragons campaign (except Dante--but we'll get him eventually). This week, Wizards of the Coast released their new splatbook for Druids, Barbarians, Shaman and Wardens, with new powers, class features, paragon paths, &c. Maybe you do not know what any of these things mean. You should ask one of us. Trust me, it's pretty sweet! Particularly for Erica, our druid. She's been the only member of our group who didn't have access to an expanded list of powers.

I wish it wasn't such a hard sell around here. We've got a ridiculously knowledgeable staff and a pretty solid selection of D&D books and minis for a bookstore of our size. Or, period, really. Aside from being the only bookstore within miles in this neighborhood, we're pretty much the only bookstore in Brooklyn that cares about the subject of rpgs at all. Manhattan has the Compleat Strategist, and I remember growing up in the 80s in south Brooklyn and seeing lots of D&D stuff in the book store in Kings Plaza, but you don't find role playing games in mainstream bookstores so much any more. Our customers long ago became hip to our comic book section, as consumers have become hip to illustrated fiction in general, but the other shoe hasn't yet dropped for books involving dice-rolling. Until then, we'll keep plugging away and hope the New York Times starts recognizing rpg literature the way they've started with comics.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Money --> Mouth

With all my talk about best sellers, I figured I'd take a look to see what ours were these days. We're ... a different demographic than the one covered by the NYT best seller list. Bear in mind, this is just us here in Brooklyn. The Manhattan stores are far more frontlist driven. Their best seller lists are gonna have a lot more new, hot titles.

(I didn't count things I thought had sold primarily as textbooks, so I had to leave off How Does It Feel to Be a Problem, by Brooklyn College professor, American Book Award winner, and all-around solid dude, Moustafa Bayoumi, because even though we sold a bunch, there are also a bunch of classes using it this semester.)

HARDCOVER:
1) Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
2) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, Steve Harvey
3) 50th Law, 50 Cent & Robert Greene
4) Breaking Dawn, Stephanie Meyer
5) Michael Jackson, Robert Taraborrelli
6) Alibi, Teri Woods
7) Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
8) Debt Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About, Kevin Trudeau
9) Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
10) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, by Jeff Kinney

PAPERBACK:
1) Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
2) Why Men Love Bitches, Sherry Argov
3) Push, Sapphire
4) Eclipse, Stephanie Meyer
5) Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Jane Austen
6) Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama
7) Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
8) Freakonomics, Steven Levitt
9) The Road, Cormac McCarthy
10) Blow Him Away: How to Give Him Mind Blowing Oral Sex, Marcy Michaels

Overdue: New Center for Astroboy Studies


It was announced over the weekend that Meiji University in Japan is planning to open a library dedicated to the study of manga--the first, as far as I am aware--with a planned collection of two million items of comics, animation, video games, &c., dating back to WWII.

Library official Susumi Shibao told the Agence France-Presse: "Manga has been taken lightly in the past and there has been no solid archive for serious study." True! I don't get manga, like, at all. Even a little bit. But we're all nerds here, and familiar with the critical prejudice against sci-fi, comics, Harlequin romance, books focused on werewolves and vampires making out, &c., &c., as "less legitimate" literature. So it's good to see such an undertaking happening. When they start interviewing applicants for "Dean of Superman Studies" here in the US of A, I'm just letting everyone know right now: I'm available.

[Photograph by Justin Doub from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons]
Books spied on the train this morning: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Unhallowed Ground, by Heather Graham.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


This week, the Wall Street Journal started running its best-seller lists using numbers from Nielsen BookScan, a data provider who tabulates retail book sales. This is major because it positions them as major rival to the New York Times' venerable Best Seller Lists, and more importantly questions the need for bestseller lists at all.

I'm gonna tell you a secret. Seriously, pay attention: "best seller lists" in papers like the New York Times? They're made up. They're cobbled together from a small sampling of booksellers who send sales reports to the NYT, and the paper extrapolates from those trends. Exactly how they extrapolate is not known--they do not disclose their methodology as they consider it a trade secret--but the New York Times Best Seller List is not actually a reflection of the real number of copies sold. People who work in the industry, publishers, booksellers, know that readers read the NYT's list and will buy books based on it, but when people in the biz want to see how books are actually selling? They look at BookScan.

Now, for a long time, educated guesstimating was the best you could get, so it didn't really matter that the NYT lists weren't 100% accurate. Enter BookScan: a giant basking shark that sucks in data from as many retailers as will give it to them, which is a lot. Not to say that BookScan is perfect--it doesn't take into account the sales of certain very large retailers (Wal-Mart, for one)--but when a system exists that analyzes the largest possible sample of actual sales numbers, what's the point of other lists?

[Photograph by Olaf Simons from Wikimedia Commons]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Top Ten Films Adapted From Novels # 10: About A Boy, Nick Hornby

In adapting Nick Hornby's About A Boy, Peter and Chris Weitz, of American Pie fame, stay true to Hornby's hilarious creation of an imperfect man in his mid 30's who is having a hard time letting go of his Peter Pan Syndrome. Hugh Grant, who plays the lead Will, fits into the role like a glove. Stepping away from the frumpish, awkward characters made famous in films like Four Weddings And A Funeral and Notting Hill, Grant showcases the charm and comedic talent that is reminiscent of Cary Grant. For example, in one of my favorites scenes in the movie, only second to the SPAT group meeting, Will visits a couple friends and marvels at the responsibility and chaos that goes along with having children. After he clumsily holds their new born baby girl in his hands, the request is made for him to be the godfather. Will declares I can't think of a worse thing for the child than me being the godfather. I'd take her out on her 18th birthday, get her drunk and lets face it, try to shag her. After an exchange like that, you'd expect to hate that character. But I give credit to Grant the actor. The ying to Will's yang in this film so to speak is Marcus. A 12-year-old misfit who isn't that popular at school and must also contend with a suicidal mother. At the beginning of their friendship, Will isn't really receptive. After all, he is a child. But as the relationship grows so does Will's fondness for Marcus. He even goes as far as to ask Marcus for advice about a woman he wants to date. Even though the producers and directors are American, the film never loses its English sensibility. What could have been incredibly mishandled, turned into real gem of a movie. That is the credit that goes to the Weitz Brothers and Nick Hornby.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Logicomix, Apostolos Doxiadis

Two pages in, the author looks directly out of the panel and tells us this book is not "a kind of textbook or treatise, in the unlikely guise of a graphic novel!" and that right there is the problem. What follows instead is an engaging but flawed biography of Bertrand Russell. Nested within two iterations of exactly the same framing device is a recounting of the "foundational quest" of 20th century mathematics of which Russell, according to this story, was a central figure.

To the book's credit, it does make that quest genuinely interesting. When Kurt Godel gazes sphinx-like from the page and climactically shatters all previous preconceptions with a simple summation of his incompleteness theorem and thus lays the foundation stone of modern day computer science, there is a genuine and thrilling sense of discovery. But in doing the necessary and generating interest in a plot driven by mathematical investigation, the book makes plain its most evident failing. This supposedly ambitious and inventive work makes little attempt to use the medium to its fullest advantage and teach its audience the mathematics it is about within the framework of the story it is telling. While it may seem a tall order, Will Eisner's work on P*S, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly and Alan Moore and J.H. Williams III's brilliant Promethea, show it to be possible. Where Eisner, Moore and Williams made the medium sing while explicating complicated philosophical systems or teaching how to build, stock and run a supply shed, Doxiadis et al. run through the well worn paces familiar to anyone who's even looked at a copy of Persepolis or Maus.

What seems evident from the novel's incompletely explored theme of the connections of genius and madness is that Dioxadis is intimidated by the challenge of tackling either. In telling the story of the foundational quest he chooses to use the viewpoint of Bertrand Russell, the least talented and most emotionally stable of the novel's mathematicians. Rather than the burningly brilliant Wittgenstein or sibylline Godel. Instead, he uses a character whose importance lies almost entirely in failing at his own most ambitious project to resolve the problem of the set of all sets, whose commitment falls short of breaking himself on the shores of that mad country where Wittgenstein readily throws himself and Godel seemingly arose fully formed.

A far more interesting take on the topic would dive through the looking-glass and into the thoughts of these figures rather than into an explanation of Bertrand Russell's limp-wristed pacifism. But the zeal for mathematical mystery invested into the novel's pages is infectious, and while he may not be up to the medium expanding genre busting the topic truly deserves, Doxiadis does deliver exactly what he promises: an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable yarn.

Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex

I dig language. It's pretty cool, right? Thanks, cavemen and cave-ladies! I make sounds with my mouth, markings on a surface, and they generate fairly specific thoughts in the head of an observer. MIND CONTROL. So, books about language? I dig them too. And though a goy, I'm also a lifelong New Yorker who watched a lot of Three Stooges in the 70s and early 80s and can remember a time when Mad Magazine and Spider-Man were larded with odd Yiddishisms, so I feel a special kinship with the Abrahamic dialects.

So this book about language? Eh, I've read better. Author Michael Wex--who's also apparently a stand-up comic?--isn't the worst writer in the world, but couldn't make the language pop for me. Maybe it's the layout: it's essentially one long prose list of Yiddish idioms, really more about "culture" than "language", and might have read better it had been made into entries like the Devil's Dictionary or The King's English, to dip into briefly and succinctly. Or maybe I just had inflated expectations; everyone from the New York Times to Cory Doctorow couldn't stop raving about this "surprise bestseller". It's interesting, but--as I feel myself saying every almost time I read popular nonfiction--probably would have been better at magazine-article length. Worth an afternoon spinning through, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photography History, 1955-Present, Gail Buckland

Whether it is Tina Turner, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Madonna, Prince or Elvis, if you're someone who enjoys music and likes having a glimpse into the artist's lives, then this is a great book for you. Gail Buckland has brought together artists and their photographers to show freedom and personal reinvention, and just a little bit of Rock and Roll.

She examines the relationship between the artist and his/her fans, the artist and photographer's relationship, and also how the photographers saw what they saw and captured it.

As you flip from page to page, you see numerous pictures of these artists doing what they do best: performing, but there are also personal pictures which really captures the essensence of their privatel lives. Whether its a picture of Amy Winehouse taken by Max Vadukal, where she is just laying in bed, almost in daze or Keith Richards with his wife Pattie Hansen standing behind the crib of their daughter, Theodora, captured by Ken Regan. We get to see these artists living freely.

The best part about this book is, there are no paparazzi pictures. These are real photographers capturing the true past of Rock and Roll. You get the chance to escape into concerts through these photos. For example: a picture taken by Lynn Goldsmith, which captures Mick Jagger just finishing a performance where the stage is covered in shoes, but you can see the audience is still screaming for more. There is also a stadium seating shot of Madonna performing, captured by Andreas Gursky. This photo has truly captured the moment, you can feel the audience screaming through the picture and if you study it closely, you might start to hear your favorite Madonna song.

However, if this book is not enough for you to you get your musical style fix, then you can go to the Brooklyn Museum, located at
200 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York 11238, to catch the exhibit of these masterpieces. The exhibit will be opening on October 30 and will run through January 31.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby

Let me be straight with you, here: I really, really, really like Nick Hornby. The themes of High Fidelity (the basis for the pretty popular and pretty excellent John Cusack movie from a few years ago, with the unexpected side-effect of introducing the world to Jack Black) -- specifically; retail hell, excessive nerdiness, and the mutation from man-child to functioning adult -- are themes that appeal to me, by Jove. They're also, coincidentally, the themes of most of his novels, in one shape or another.

Juliet, Naked is probably the most exasperatingly Nick Hornby ish novel that Nick Hornby has ever written, and some of his most well-loved trods are followed faithfully. To wit: Juliet, Naked is about a washed-up Morrissey-ish song-writer who retired from music in the 80s and never quite became an actual grown-up, and the long-time girlfriend of his biggest, most obsessed modern-day fan, none of whom ever quite became actual grown-ups. See what I mean?

Readers familiar with Hornby will know what to expect -- his novels are, at their most elemental, romantic comedies. This doesn't mean they can't be really good romantic comedies, but describing them as anything else is at the very least slightly disingenuous. Maybe most striking about Juliet, Naked is how dark it is; or, at least, how Hornby's aging is evidenced in his writing (he turned 50 between the publication of his previous novel, Slam , and this one). This novel is, maybe contrary to what I just said, not so much about music as it is about getting old, wanting children, failing the children you do have, and the re-evaluation of wasted lives. And, well, also the internet. Quite a lot of it is about the internet and the odd, obsessive people who live there.

So, that's pretty bleak, and characters spend most of their time examining and re-examining their lengthy histories of failure, and when it's all finished the ends don't tie quite together quite so neatly. Still, that's to be taken as a plus, as far as I'm concerned; Hornby characters are idiosyncratic but seldom bland, and almost always likable. Tucker Crowe and Annie -- that's the washed up rock-star and the rural English girlfriend -- are both believable and endearing, and even Duncan (that's the obsessed fan) conjures some vague sort of affection; this despite being essentially worthless as a human being.

But, then, that's what Hornby usually does, and does well: make you care for people who are, like most people who are worth caring about, in some way fundamentally broken.

Trucker King

Every time I think I've sussed out every genre of pulp literature under the sun, I come across another one: East German trucker pulps! Ectomo.com has a few covers posted of these books which apparently all feature heroic men who drive heroically large commercial or recreational vehicles. We do not really have this genre here in the USA, except in country music. The Stallone vehicle Over the Top is as much about high stakes arm-wrestling as it is about trucking, so I don't think that counts.

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to collect whatever indigenous pulps (and pulpy comics, since that's basically what pulps are these days) I can find, and I'd love to get my hands on these, although I don't speak even a syllable of German. I'm sure if you know where to look--in a Berlin basement at the bottom of a box of discount blue jeans and Scorpions LPs, for example--you can probably pick up a pile of these things for a couple Pfennigs.
Books spied on the train: In a Dry Season, by Peter Robinson. And a Kindle!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ecce Nook!

So the book biz big secret of the week is apparently ... this! Barnes & Noble's revelation of their new supposed Kindle-killer. There was a while there I started to see a bunch of people with Kindles on the subway, like once or twice a day, but I feel like it's faded a bit to where it's unusual to spy them again. The news sure seems to think they're being adopted like crazy. I dunno. I'm not a bunker-squatting Luddite or anything, but I think the printed book is still a pretty good technology, so I don't see myself chucking my library any time soon in favor of one of these, although I'm not prepared to say it'll never happen. Who knows. Getting these books out of my apartment would roughly double my living space.
Anyway, Frau Totenkindle here looks like it's going to start retailing at $259, which is what the Kindle costs. As yet I have no idea what advantages it offers over that device, and to my eye it basically looks just like a Kindle, so I don't know what the pitch is.
Books spotted on the R train: Comp Works of Oscar Wilde. The Cottage, by Danielle Steel.

I Killed Adolf Hitler, Jason

My fondness for alternative comics is not well documented, because mostly I actually kinda hate them. When it comes to illustrated literature, I typically need people to be wearing capes, or trying to blow up the Earth, or both. Also I'm perhaps prejudiced against artists with one name who don't live in a giant purple mansion in Minnesota. But every once in a while I go off the rez and find myself happier for it. This book was one of those occasions. There's really no way to explain what this thing is without spoiling it, even though its plot is largely nonsensical. A deadpan-hip time-travel story featuring an anthropomorphized cat hitman (hitcat?) Oh, and it's also a story about being in love and growing old together with someone? In the future/past. Uh, yeah, sure, why not. Pour me another.

So, aside from all its aggressively quirky quirks, this is actually quite an affecting and touching tale. I will say: I was moved. And it's true that I'm a soft touch for that sort of thing, but it really captures well certain aspects of falling in love, in a very non-Hollywood and refreshing way, where it's not cliche fireworks, it's kinda hard, and maybe almost accidental. Obviously, its other message is that being in love means helping the one you love kill a genocidal 20th century dictator, which is as it should be.

The only drawback is that it takes maybe ten minutes to read, tops, and, while pleasurable, is an entertainment of no greater duration than your average issue of Batman. Or Usagi Yojimbo, if you are not of the cape-loving orientation. It reads like a very long newspaper cartoon in your alternative weekly of choice. You can argue about whether I Killed Adolf Hitler offers a more sublime set of pleasures, but--yikes--the book lists for more than four times an issue of reg'lar comics, at $12.95. And ~$1.25 per minute is a pretty steep investment for any literature these days.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Am The New Black, Tracy Morgan

Really, the celebrity memoir only ever deserves to be written from the deathbed. By all rights, people have lived enough of a life by then to be at least passably interesting.

What makes I Am The New Black an exception to this rule is Tracy Morgan. If only every biography could allow for excerpts like:

"Vietnam was like a big girl everybody in the hood had been with but no one greeted on the street. Vietnam was a fat girl with gonorrhea; it was an embarrassment that nobody in America would be able to forget."

IATNB is as funny as you would expect and Morgan is direct about struggles with fame, addiction and everything ever. It's a super fast read that you mine for trademark turns of phrase if you love him. If you don't, I cannot hope to understand you. It's also clearly written from a place of happiness. He has made it through legitimately hard, crazy times intact.