Time Was, George Will’s Syndicated Content for the Midwest Fostered Folksy Generalizations ‘Bout Ol’ Readin’ News

George Will: “Time was, books were the primary means of knowing things. Now most people learn most things visually, from the graphic presentation of immediately, effortlessly accessible pictures.”

GEORGE WILL: “Sheet, boss, you see dat ALA survey? Not nobody be reading no more.”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “Yeehaw! You’re darn tootin’. Who need dem books? Hey, Georgie, why not write a piece wi’ some of dem rash generalizations. You’re due a column, aintcher?”

GEORGE WILL: “Well, boss, you and I’ze know dats true. And I been lax o’ late. And I’m shures youze understand. I reckon I never learned no nothing from dem books.”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “Footnotes, sources, dem stuff’s worthless, right? Ain’t nobody pay no attention to scholarship.”

GEORGE WILL: “I reckon. No real mind anyhows.”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “All visual, like dat issue of Archie where Jughead’s laughing his teenage butt off after Archie falls on his butt.”

GEORGE WILL: “Oh, dat shure was funny.”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “Reckon you got 750 words dere.”

GEORGE WILL: “On Archie?”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “No, dang it, boy! Readin’! Easy. Say sumpin’ bout Dickens. You might wanta ask Ol’ Jack Bedford up the hill. He know lotsa stuff. He read. He give you sumpin’ if you give him a dollah.”

GEORGE WILL: “A dollah? Really? Darn tootin!”

GEORGE WILL’S EDITOR: “Maybe sumpin’ bout Roosevelt or World War II.”

GEORGE WILL: “Youza sharp one, boss! The piece will write itself!”

Jerry Goldsmith Dead

One of the greatest living movie composers, Jerry Goldsmith, has passed on. He was 75. Goldsmith composed over three hundred scores (more than Ennio Morricone) and nearly every one of them was a barn-buster. I’ll have more to say on this later. Needless to say, Goldsmith’s death is a loss to cinema beyond compare.

Glengarry Powell Ross

Powell’s is hosting an essay contest celebrating ten years of bidness. Put that credit card down! That credit card is for buyers! You think I’m fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. The good news is you’re fired. The bad news is, you’ve got, all you’ve got just one week to write an essay for Powell’s starting with today’s contest. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. Cause we’re adding a little something to the Powell’s shopping experience. First prize is $1,000 in books. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is $100 in books. Third prize is you’re fired. Fuck you! That’s my name. You know why mister? Cause you purchased a cheapass Penguin paperback before getting here tonight. I purchased a rare limited hardcover edition with a misprint on the dust jacket. The books are weak, the books are weak. You’re weak. If you can’t write an essay with these books, hit the bricks pal and beat it! Cause you are going out! (via Chicha)

Woof Woof: Who Let the Grads Out?

One is struck by the ponderous and patently silly nature of Mr. Munson’s deconstruction. Hey, Sam, I’ve got your deliberately informal tone right here. It’s called letting your hair down.

[UPDATE: Mark’s opened up a can of whipass.]

[FURTHER UPDATE: It looks like the devil will cite scripture to serve his purpose. Because it’s now clear that the assclowns at the New Partisan have too much time on their hands, and because they feel the need to frame ad hominen attacks within faux MLA essays (that’s editing?), I have delinked their post. I’m all for a democratic discussion about what literary blogs are. I’m even willing to be called every name in the book (and have). But when the purpose of these posts serve as pale Dale Peck imitations (e.g., “as word-drunk and pointless as a Foucault-worshippers dissertation” used shortly before bemoaning name calling — a hypocritical framing in the extreme), without a single reasonable argument or example, and are used as efforts to get attention, then I will ignore them. Memo to New Partisan: If you want to go after the heavy-hitters in an intellectual way, go check out Dan Green’s the Reading Experience, where Green regularly cites from books and articles to back up his points. Now excuse me while I try and recover.]

It’s Time to Bury the Corpse

I don’t watch a lot of television. In fact, just about the only time I turn the teevee on is to watch Six Feet Under, which in its previous seasons somehow transcended its overwrought situations with musings on life, interrelationships and death. Now that I’ve caught up (thanks to insomnia) with this season, I’ve lost just about all hope for Six Feet Under. It can’t be an accident that the last episode was called “That’s My Dog.” The show not only does not respect the integrity and intelligence of its characters (what happened to Keith’s rage or the intricate relationship with his family?), but is content to rip off its plots from subpar movies like Training Day, though without even that film’s nuances. I speak of the recent hitchhiking subplot, whereby David had several opportunities to run away or roar off with the van, but didn’t. I speak of Michael C. Hall, a talented actor of understatements, reduced to cardboard histrionics. I speak of a situation in which characters are now spread across a wide expanse as opposed to being united in the funeral home, whereby the horrible plot device of coincidence will no doubt bring these people together. (Is this why Olivier is back? To keep Brenda’s mom in the picture?) I speak of the stunt plot devices (seen with the shit packages, perhaps a clue from the writers that they’re burned out?) and the cartoonish characterizations (the death of the religious lady seeing the balloon, the ogling security guards, and even Brenda’s new boyfriend, Joe, a one-dimensional nice guy played by tin Theroux, an actor hindered by slipshod writing and thus not allowed to showcase his quirks). Even the opening deaths, with the “unexpected” person of the two dying, are as transparent as gauze.

We’re now five episodes (i.e., five hours) and not only are the story arcs barely moving (slower than the recent HBO adaptation of Angels in America!), but they lack any of the vitality and meaning seen particularly in the show’s first two seasons. If the current season continues in this vein, then I hope HBO will be kind enough to bury the corpse. Six Feet Under has become no different and no less dumber than network television. And it’s a goddam shame.

Oh, and memo to Alan Ball: Beyond actually keeping your goddam characters consistent, if you’re going to have crackheads and crack dealers, how about a little verisimilitude, you out-of-touch motherfucker? Crackheads are dingy, unwashed, unattractive, hopelessly addicted, and sad. They are not picked, as you presented them, clean with slightly used threads and about two days’ stubble from the adjacent set of some failed MTV effort at streetcred.

Man, I knew I should have kept my boob tube off.

Don’t the Ego Look Lonesome

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Return of the Reluctant has obtained an advance copy of Stanley Crouch’s memoir, entitled I’ll Slap ‘Em If They Smoke My Shit, to be published by Knopf in October 2004. Curiously, the memoir has been written in the third person, with a similar style to his previous work.]

When Stanley went to Tartine with Stanley’s ego to meet his nemesis, there were a lot of brief stares. Stanley thought of a horse, which spurred him to remember, as he now preferred to remember, because he could remember, that he was so masculine looking. His skin was shaven as a piece of paper, his torso just short of superman but muscular, his eyes the perfect tint to match the black marble in his floor and bathroom, and also the hotel room he stayed in last week, and also a few shades he saw at Tina Brown’s party, but he was very angry and mad, and he knew that all the women would want to fuck him because of his manliness and his eyes and the hotel room that he could check into with one of the six credit cards in his wallet, his eyes greedy and nearly decadant in their dramatis personae.

This contrast, whcih they used to joke about while smoking seven cigarettes a piece in a place that had a roomful of smoke, fury, and masculinity, meant too much and mayhaps too little right now. It was Peck that put a gash, a scar, a bullet hole, a razor burn, an affront to his masculinity in his maculine spirit. He, they, and we were superior or not, but it troubled him because there was someone in the room, maybe the owner of Tartine or the busboy who ran away because he was intimidated by him, disrupted by Stanley’s smooth, goddam smooth, smoother than his third cousin’s (second removed) infant bottom. The two had never talked, but there had been a review, a goddam review, a pretty ragged and pretty nasty and not so pretty review of Stanley’s book. Stanley’s genius stood next to Peck’s table, five times the genius of Peck, five times the man, five times the fighter (like Tyson back in the day), five times in his mind slapping Peck and watching him squirm five times the way that boy at the Voice did.

It had gotten a little hard to follow in Stanley’s mind. His grammar had deteriorated because Stanley had played the race card. Now he would play another one, just to see who Peck was. Five times. Tina Brown would be happy.

(Hat tip: Ron)

Human Decency at a Premium

When I first heard the news about soldiers anally raping children in Abu Ghraib last night (Seymour Hersh says that the Pentagon is sitting on the tapes), I hoped to hell that it was a rumor. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of disgust that something this barbaric was allowed to go down. But I was left speechless. Fortunately, Stavros has weighed in on the matter. We’ll see how the White House and the Pentagon respond to this one (if they respond at all) and what, if anything, Hersh manages to ferret out of his military contacts.

I Am a Fugitive White-Suited Writer from a Typewriting Gang

New York Post: “The full manuscript of ‘Charlotte Simmons’ has not been turned in, sources say, but The Post obtained about 100 unedited manuscript pages. The pages indicate that the novel will be more straightforward and concerned with a smaller world than either ‘Bonfire’ or ‘A Man in Full,’ but typically Wolfian in its keen, if disturbing, observations.” (via Gawker)

[UPDATE: Rolling Stone has an excerpt, which is….well, just plain goofy. “A gale was blowing in his head?”]

Those Vituperative Librarians Leave Bad Childhood Memories, Don’t They?

WNBC: “A 36-year-old man led police on a short car chase, driving against traffic on a busy boulevard so he wouldn’t get caught with a stolen library book…. The chase lasted about 10 minutes, with about a dozen police cruisers involved. During the chase, officers saw the suspect toss a backpack out the car window, Connellan said. When they recovered it, they found the stolen book, Connellan said.”

The Bohemian Grove: Continuing the Long Legacy of Racist Elitism

San Francisco Chronicle: “One year, San Francisco novelist Herb Gold said he was offered an associate membership if he would help write the Grove play. Gold took fellow writer Earnest Gaines (‘A Lesson Before Dying’), an African American, to a Wednesday night entertainment at the six-story downtown club. Five members, he said, were in blackface. One member clapped Gaines on the back. ‘Looks like you’ve played a little football,’ Gold heard him say. Shortly thereafter, the writers took their leave. ‘I guess I’m not clubbable,’ Gold said wryly.”

I’ll See Your Worst Writer of His Generation and Raise You a Bumptious Heehaw

John Leonard: “Think of it: with a whole world of worthy targets — Rupert Murdoch, Michael Eisner, Donald Trump, Conrad Black, Eli Manning, Shell Oil, Clear Channel, Conde Nast — he mugs a man who has spent the last quarter of a century staying poor by reviewing other people’s books, who has read more widely, warmly and deeply than the vampire bat fastened to his carotid, who should be commended rather than ridiculed for a willingness to take on a review of a new translation of Mandelstam’s journals, and who, even though he wrote a regrettably mixed review of a book of mine in these pages, deserves far better from the community of letters, if there is one, than Peck’s bumptious heehaw: ”With friends like this, literature needs an enema.””

The Ultimate Compromise

After hearing early notice that the film version of I, Robot was nothing less than a crapfest (hardly the stuff of Asimov; the new version had killer robots, no less), and being plagued by lack of time, I avoided the sucker, despite Alex Proyas’ involvement. NPR has gone to the trouble of tracking down the players behind Harlan Ellison’s original script, interviewing Ellison, director Irvin Kershner (who was at one point slated to direct the Ellison version), as well as Proyas. The Jeff Vintar script that I, Robot was based on was originally another script, but later fused with the Asimov label once the I, Robot rights became available. (Amazingly, Vintar is also adapting Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.)

Among some of the more interesting revelations:

  • Ellison used the Citizen Kane template to frame four of Asimov’s stories into a script.
  • Kershner claims that, despite its strengths, Ellison’s script was too expensive and too driven by ideas.
  • The executive behind the production hadn’t read Ellison’s script and Ellison claims (in addition to learning judo from Bruce Lee) that he forcefully grabbed the executive and let loose a farrago of expletives. He was, predictably enough, ejected from the production. Strangely, Ellison boasts about his violence in the NPR interview, as if physically gripping a dumb studio executive were some grand act of bravado.
  • Proyas read Ellison’s script, but states that it wasn’t the movie he wanted to make. This is an interesting revelation, given how much he was attracted to Dark City, arguably just as intricate as Ellison’s script.

In addition, NPR also has two online audio exclusives: one of Ellison reading portions of the screenplay and another, with Ellison relating more of his perspective in a seven minute segment. Whatever the merits of Ellison’s script (or his Sticking It to The Man argument), one is struck by Ellison’s hubris. (“The script was very long and very good.”) He boldly states that he will “write you a screenplay that will win you awards.” There is also a good amount of inexplicable justification in the online interview. (At one point, Ellison states that Asimov had his blessing. But stating this isn’t enough. He also notes that he has “letters to prove it.”)

Was Ellison’s script a hodgepodge of ideas too intricate to be digested for mass consumption? Could the project have been set back on track if Ellison had simply dismissed the ignorant executive and talked with the right people? I remain a fan of Ellison’s stories, but I find it sad that a seventy year old man, who had no problem compromising with AOL, would look back upon a unilateral act of physical violence with such feverish gusto. The tragic possibility is that, in a single moment, Ellison may have derailed one of the greatest science fiction films never made.

James Wood is the Worst Generalizer of His Generation

We’re operating on about one thruster right now to get us to O’Hare, so it’s possible we’ve taken leave of our senses. But this Laura Miller essay comparing Dale Peck and James Wood offers, to our muddled fume-impaired vision, some very compelling cases that they’re cut from the same cloth. As much as we appreciate his wares, Wood’s comment that a novel that “engages with the culture” could never be any good is about as pretentious and myopic about the novel’s future as Dale Peck’s infamous first line. We can only reply, skating dangerously close to the Julavits line: What’s wrong with ambition?

(UPDATE: Aw, fuggit. We have no brain. Stephany pretty much nails it.)

Toodle-oo until Monday.

Nineteen Suns Before Earth Hands Him to 30

— You are not doing enough.
— Nonsense, mofo.
— No, you are feeling the appropriate sensations.
— Of age?
— More than that, padre, but that’s part of the package.
— Yes, the twenties are a waning sun soon to depart into the ocean.
— It gets better. And so do your metaphors.
— Easier?
— No, but better. You’re going to be laughing your ass off pretty soon over this internal monologue. A few years from now. Just as your friends have been saying. Your petty musings on owning property or having a better day job. Who the hell do you think you are? You’re doing a damn good job, kiddo. You know yourself now better than most your age.
— I got carded for beer the other night.
— Only because you shaved.
— Yeah, good point.
— Now if you can just get through the next few weeks, it will be as if nothing happened.
— Just another day?
— Yeah. And what they don’t tell you is that because you make decisions on a daily basis to get to the exact place you want to be, you’re one sexy motherfucker. Robert Mitchum badass, sexy.
— These are good things.
— Yes, I’ve been trying to tell you. But you keep moping on about thumbing a lift to Minneapolis in the middle of the workweek or doing something rash. I’m not suggesting you settle down, but if you keep it up, kid, it will work out.
— But thirty? I should be someplace better.
— Listen, you ambitious sod, the economy sucks, but you’re setting things up anyway. Just deal with it.
— Okay. But can we chat when something else comes up?
— Here he goes again. Okay, but no more after the day of transmutation.
— Deal.

A Happy Year

About Last Night is one year old. We’d have more to say, but then we’d have to unveil the latest draft of the Teachout roast we’ve been working on for six months, which only Sarah’s had the good fortune to read. (Rest assured the roast, which has only recently been cut down to eight hours, isn’t ready anyway. It goes far beyond Terry’s well-publicized endowment and includes a gripping narrative of OGIC’s early days in Lisbon as a flamenco dancer, much of which has yet to be confirmed by our well-paid fact-checking department.) But a happy year nonetheless to Terry and OGIC, hopefully with more to come.

The Book Review & Reading Climate

Sara looks at book reviews from an auctorial perspective. She writes, “The reviews can be limp with distaste or bristling with sarcasm or even positive — but one thing is pretty constant: I almost always have the really strong sense that the reviewer didn’t really read the book beyond a casual skimming. Here’s the thing: reviews — even mean spirited ones, even nasty ones — would be easier to take if the process were less opaque.” A good point, but an unfair generalization, I think. To look at the issue from the reviewer’s perspective, the real question is whether “casual skimming” means shifting gears to a level that involves dwelling upon almost every planted nicety that an author has included in her novel. Another suggestion is that the book reviewing climate has been influenced in part by the film review climate (of which more anon). Even if the review climate is willing to give the reviewer the time and compensation for extended contemplation, I’m curious about what constitutes an appropriate in-depth level or whether, indeed, such a level’s actually compatible with the short-and-snappy demands of an editor.

In an ideal review climate, I think we’d see reviewers all propounding passions and theories, discernible to literary folk and laymen alike, with the reviewer trying to compound her copious notes (assuming she takes notes!) into a 1,200 word piece. But I would argue that the reviewing climate has become so lazy and unrewarding that not only are reviewers loath to do the proper work, but the space they receive in current newspapers is equally undervalued. Where a movie is two hours, often with nary a nugget of complexity or a double entendre, and thus very compatible with, say, a formulaic 500 word essay, a book involves more of an abstract experience that runs several hours longer and involves considerably more research. The film critic may watch an auteur’s back catalog (all in the time it takes to read a book!), but is less likely to look up a reference, investigate a phrasing, or otherwise engage in the more invested experience that the book reviewer would, under the right circumstances, need to include.

I suggest that this tonal transformation has much to do with the categorization by necessity of books as “entertainment, not art.” Another factor is the continuing stigma that prevents a popular (and skillful) 1940s author like John P. Marquand from being recognized in the same breath as Theodore Dreiser (depending upon whether Dreiser himself is in favor this year or not). At the present time, we see a situation in which books are either “art” or “entertainment,” but almost rarely joined at the twain. (And when they are to some extent, we see stigmas, such as those levied against Jonathan Franzen, Charles Frazier and Tom Wolfe.) By contrast, movies, by way of being prohibitively expensive and therefore a greater gamble, are by their very necessity a compromise within that dichotomy. There are film snobs, to be sure; but thanks to the mass proliferation of indie and art house films on DVD (through such successful mail order companies as Netflix), the art house film experience doesn’t possess nearly the prominent dichotomy that one sees at almost any literary function (not unlike the opera or they symphony). Indeed, on the film front, art itself has become democratized and it is quite possible that the populace’s standards have raised. (Certainly, the sharper dropoffs for the latest Hollywood crapola blockbuster may point in this direction.)

My real question here, in light of the recent NEA results, is whether we can ever see a similar situation occur in the book world. Would it happen if some enterprising developer was to institute Bookflix, perhaps as an alternative to the dwindling hours and selections at public libraries? Or suppose publishers actually tried to market books to kids at a younger age? After all, if Pepsi-Cola and McDonald’s can be aggressive about hooking kids onto addictive substances while young, why not book publishers?

Going back to some of the transformative causes, what we have, I believe, is a situation in the book review world where enthusiasm has, in part, replaced literary criticism, perhaps an effort by editors to corral the tone of their entertainment pages to a conforming whole. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one would hope that current book reviews would be predicated on finding a halfway point that invites the lay reader while satisfying the learned sophisticate. Or is the situation so horrid and hopelessly irreversible that we have reached the point of no return?

Peck-Crouch: Linda Yablonsky’s Take

Thanks in part to Sarah, I just spoke with Linda Yablonsky, who had lunch with Dale Peck when Stanley Crouch confronted him. She told me that as the two of them were dining, Stanley Crouch looked in. He put his hand on Peck’s shoulder and asked, “Are you Dale Peck?” Peck was a little flushed, but prepared. The two of them stared at each other. There was silence. Peck asked, “So what?”

Crouch didn’t know what. He then replied, “I just wanted to meet you. I just wanted to know what you were.”

Peck didn’t react. Then there was a brief beat, and Crouch slapped Peck in the face, leaving a mark.

Everyone in Tartine grew silent. The busboy cowered (which may explain why the restaurant owner knew nothing about it). Crouch said something else — what he said, Yablonsky does not know. Then he apologized and said to Peck, “Now you have something on me.”

Peck then said something along the lines of “If you hit me again, you’ll…”

Crouch then said that he shouldn’t have slapped Peck, but suggested that the two of them step outside. Peck refused and Crouch left.

Yablonsky reminded me that Crouch is, in her words, “five times the size” of Peck.

(Thanks to Linda Yablonsky, whose novel The Story of Junk, can be purchased here.)

Peck-Crouch Update

Newsday has followed up on the Peck-Crouch smackdown. Crouch declined to comment, but he acknowledges in the article that he saw Peck at Tartine. Newsday did note that Crouch was once fired for hitting a colleague at the Village Voice.

I’ve called the owner of Tartine, the restaurant where Crouch allegedly hit Peck. The owner declined to give his name to me, but he told me that he was unaware of anyone fighting or hitting anybody yesterday. And none of his staff reported the incident to him.

Until we can get a report corroborated from a Tartine employee, I’m inclined to believe that the incident was exaggerated somewhat on Gawker. And Choire did, after all, disclaim that he rooms with Peck.