Friday, July 30, 2010

New Best American Comics coming out

A couple days ago Neil Gaiman tweeted the cover of the new installation of the Best American Comics series that he is editing. I've been kind of ambivalent towards the series in this past but I'm kinda looking forward to this year's edition.

Gleaning the wheat from the chaff

Buried in the utter avalanche of nerd-related news coming out of San Diego Comic Con International this past week were a few tidbits of things we're actually super excited about here. One of the most notable was the news that Jeff Smith is going to be coming out with new Bone books. If you don't know ... Bone is one of the greatest comics ever made and we all love it to death. It's up there with Watchmen I think, as one of the most enduring works of the medium. The best point of reference I can think of is what if Disney was utterly awesome (and not just, you know, Disney) and made a Lord of the Rings cartoon. It's just ... NEW BONE BOOKS! Right? Awesome.

Well, mostly new. First is a new series called Bone: Tall Tales, which is only going to be drawn by Smith (written by Tom Sniegoski), which will be a reworking of Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails, colorized, and with extra material. That should be in stores next month I think. Then, more interestingly to me, there’s going to be an altogether new series of Bone stories called Quest for the Spark, in which the character of Bone return to the valley years after Bone ends. First one should be out February 2011.

The other bit of news I found interesting is that the late Will Eisner's A Contract with God is going to be made into a movie? It'll be an anthology film, with four different directors for the four separate parts. Which I hope heralds an Eisner renaissance. There's a bio of Eisner on the horizon (November 2010 to be precise) that some people here are already reading that sounds really fascinating.

Was there anything else utterly awesome that I missed?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prepare to be creeped out just a little

I don't know what distresses me more: a) that there is an annual contest in Key West, Florida, to find the most convincing Ernest Hemingway lookalike, or b) the fact that this year there were 123 entrants. I sure love A Farewell to Arms, but the idea of being in a room with 123 guys who look so much like Ernest Hemingway they thought they should travel to Key West and enter a competition to prove it is ... mildly petrifying.

Man Booker Prize longlist announced

Yesterday they announced the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most highly esteemed literary brass rings out there. For those who may be unfamiliar, the prize is awarded "for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe." It's such a big deal that even being shortlisted for it is still pretty prestigious. It's also one of the few publishing prizes I am personally invested in, and still always make it a point to check out the honorees of.
  • Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (excerpt)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (excerpt)
  • The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (excerpt)
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (excerpt)
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy (excerpt)
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (excerpt)
  • February by Lisa Moore (excerpt)
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (excerpt)
  • Trespass by Rose Tremain (excerpt [scroll down])
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (excerpt)
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
[Excerpts dug up by more diligent and industrious hands than mine, over at The Millions.]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

Enough said. (Via Bookninja.)

The Book-Suer of Kabul

Two weeks after the September 11 attacks a Norwegian woman named Åsne Seierstad entered Afghanistan and donned a burqa to conceal her identity and moved in with a guy named Shah Muhammad Rais, a bookseller, and his family. While there she soaked up the day-to-day realities of ordinary family life in Afghanistan and later wrote a book about her experiences. You may have heard of it? It was called The Bookseller of Kabul. It sold like hotcakes and everyone was happy. Except for Rais's family, who disputed the book's factual accuracy, and especially Rais, who wasn't crazy about how the book made him look like a tyrannical domineering jerkwad. Ordinarily this might just be a case of he-said-hun-said, but Rais's wife Suraia, who also alleged the book jeopardized their safety in Afghanistan, sued Seierstad in a Norwegian court. And won:

"The information [in the book] about Rais's thoughts and feelings is sensitive ... They are attributed to her as true, and neither Seierstad nor [Norwegian publisher] Cappelen Damm can be considered to have acted in good faith to ensure they were correct and accurate."

The court ordered Seierstad's publisher to pay Suraia Rais 250,000 kroner--about US$40,000, or, more importantly, $1.76 million Afghanistan Afghanis. Sounds like somebody's movin' on up. I hope this occasions an Afghani remake of The Jeffersons. I miss that show.

[Photo of piles of Afghanistan Afghanis from the United States Agency for International Development via Wikimedia Commons.]

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Palimpsests of Employees Past

So now that our own Alicia here in Brooklyn has taken over some of the drudge chores associated with maintaining our website, she's also gotten the opportunity to perform some internet archaeology on our servers, specifically images stored there by past employees who had at some point a reason to work on our website. Including the one pictured above, which I guess depicts David Hasslehoff as a Jedi master? And ... is that Dick Van Dyke over on the right?

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Gawker today, American author Tao Lin (whom they have in the past called "the most irritating person we've had to deal with") has written a post about getting banned from the NYU bookstore for shoplifting, which I guess is kind of what that guy is all about? He is after all the guy who wrote a (semi-autobiographical?) novella called Shoplifting from American Apparel, and brags about getting banned from, among other places, American Apparel and Whole Foods for shoplifting, so I guess his literary genre is ... petty crime? I've never read him. Although, judging from this post here today is one day I'm glad Gawker's commenters are kinda mean-spirited.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Observational Canvas Of Zadie Smith's Occasional Essays (Part One, Seeing)

Alright from the beginning I am putting this out there. Do what you want with it. I'm a BIG FAN of Zadie Smith but when it came to her latest piece of work, my excitement dissipated quickly. Essays don't fill me with abject joy but with the premise of Changing My Mind, my attention was grabbed once more. In her book she categorizes her topics in five parts: Seeing, Reading Being, Feeling, and Remembering. To start off, I'm going to summarize the state of seeing.


She begins with her undying admiration for Katharine Hepburn. A woman made for the Golden Age of Hollywood. A woman of one singular idea to the cause of preservation in a society be original, be daring, be resolute, in other words: be a pain in the ass. Ms. Smith recalls that seeing a Kate Hepburn movie makes you realize a couple of things. One, she was a hell of an actress and two, the films made in those days rarely and I mean rarely caused a caustic reaction. To Hepburn the woman you must take it back to Hepburn the child. Zadie recalls heartbreaking moments in Hepburn's childhood that shaped her traits as the straight-talking, trouser wearing tomboy. Hepburn never compromised who she was to please people in Hollywood and in life. Truly an original. I believe Ms. Smith sees Katharine Hepburn as a foundation for the perfect archetypal woman on film. Well, I shouldn't say perfect. How about just a foundation. A foundation for the archetypal woman on film.

Ms. Smith also turns her attention to Greta Garbo. I'll sum up her essay by stating the philosopher Roland Barthes described Garbo's face as a transition between two semiological epochs, two ways of seeing women. Garbo marked the passage from awe to charm, from concept to substance. "The face of Garbo is an idea". Out of all the sirens in the Golden Age of Hollywood, why did Ms. Smith pick Greta Garbo? She's mythic. That face was too perfect to be human. She was cold. No reaction. No feeling. Yet it worked for her. For my money, Ingrid Bergman was it for me. A face too perfect. She was warm. Every feeling itched on the face. It worked for her.

To the multiplex we will go. Zadie Smith got a chance to review movies for a single season in 2006. Memoirs Of A Geisha visually is a feast to gaze upon with its blue grayish light. As a movie on whole, it elicited heartache and headache. Poorly plotted, monotomy, inert, subhuman dialogue spoken in English with a faux Japanese accent. The objection of casting non Japanese actresses in these roles at first seemed like a case of oversensitivity to Smith. But after further thought, seeing as how she could tell the difference between an Irishman and a Welshman from forty paces, it made sense that the casting was off. I completely agree with Zadie Smith in her stand on Memoirs Of A Geisha. It starts with director Rob Marshall. Don't get me wrong he knocked it out of Yankee Stadium with Chicago and I don't even like musicals and that is just it. His talent lies with musical narrative. He knows how to place nuisance within that type of story. You get Ang Lee or even Stephen Daldry for this piece of material. It wouldn't have touched the fairy tale heights the way Pretty Woman did.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mad Men Book Club

Waiting for July 25 to arrive and bring with it the start of the fourth season of AMC's Mad Men? Here's a short list of books featured in the series that we have at our lovely store: (Beware, made of spoilers)

The Best of Everything (Rona Jaffe)
Exodus (Leon Uris)
Season One, Episode Six: Babylon
The basket full of kisses episode! Ostensibly, The Best of Everything, read in bed, makes its appearance as work homework. However, fifty years later, the personal and professional struggles women face in the city remain the same. I dare you to work on Madison Avenue and read this trashy bestseller today. Dated as it may be, you will still ride the train to work with your head in your hands.
And Rachel Menken. Don really never gets it right after you. Exodus is part of research done to make a client out of the Israeli Tourism Bureau. However, it may as well remain under Don's pillow for the rest of the series as character shorthand. A book about a people in search of a homeland? Independence? Rebirth? Signifier: check.

Meditations in an Emergency (Frank O’Hara)
Season Two, Episode One: For Those Who Think Young
"I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love."
Drinking lunch in a bar, Don notices a fellow patron reading Frank O'Hara. Don asks about the book; he replies, "I don't think you'd like it." This is a hilarious thing to say. 

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon)
Season Three, Episode Three: My Old Kentucky Home
Sally Draper reads aloud from this to Grandpa Gene, as the world around them changes, starting at home. It's an important scene, starting an arc where he steps in as her parent(s), trying to mitigate the damage of neglect. Of course, it also foreshadows the cultural shift that is coming for all the characters.

The Group (Mary McCarthy)
Season Three, Episode Ten: The Color Blue
Remember when Betty Draper shot some birds? Remember when she slapped Helen Bishop at the supermarket? Remember when she had her moments? Everybody hates Betty Draper now, which given the trajectory of her character in the last season, is understandable. Still, this is the book that she reads in the bath and at the table before the seismic shift of the locked box. And this is after the post-partum nightmare where Gene tells her, "You're a housecat. Very important, with little to do." I am holding out hope, along with others, that this is a stretching exercise for The Feminine Mystique. Also, seriously? Get out of Reno. Haven't you seen The Misfits?

Honorable mention: Bertram Cooper talking about Ayn Rand. Every television show should have a character that does this because then television would more accurately depict the world. I am, wherever I go, forever approached by a person pressing in, instructing me to read Atlas Shrugged.

Friday, July 2, 2010

As purple as it gets

And apropos of atrocious writing, this week announced the winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The contest, held by San Jose State University in California, awards $250 to the person who can "compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels". Just the most deliberately bad and purple thing anyone can come up with. This year's pretty astonishing winner comes from Molly Ringle of Seattle, WA:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.
The award is named for Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton, the novelist who first wrote the sentence "It was a dark and stormy night" (it was the opening sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford), but also coined some surprisingly enduring phrases like "the pen is mightier than the sword", "the great unwashed", and the "in pursuit of the almighty dollar".

New Favorite Tumblr

My day was just immeasurably brightened by discovering Slushpile Hell! For those of you who have never worked in the publishing industry, or never known anyone who worked in the publishing industry, when fresh-faced new authors send their manuscripts to publishers or agents to see if anyone might possibly want to print their work, these manuscripts get reviewed by armies of unpaid or underpaid interns and publishing flunkies (no offense intended, publishing flunkies). Slushpile Hell memorializes the efforts of this vast horde by printing excerpts from usually ridiculous author query letters with usually hilarious and cringeworthy results.

I think because of it, a bunch of people on lit blogs have been talking about their experiences being a slush reader and oh man does it not sound fun. There's an interesting article in right now where journalist Laura Miller talks about it:

It seriously messes with your head to read slush. Being bombarded with inept prose, shoddy ideas, incoherent grammar, boring plots and insubstantial characters -- not to mention ton after metric ton of clichés -- for hours on end induces a state of existential despair that's almost impossible to communicate to anyone who hasn't been there themselves: Call it slush fatigue. You walk in the door pledging your soul to literature, and you walk out with a crazed glint in your eyes, thinking that the Hitler Youth guy who said, "Whenever I hear the word 'culture,' I reach for my revolver" might have had a point after all.