BSS #74: Jeff Bryant & Sidney Thompson


Guests: Jeff Bryant and Sidney Thompson

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Locked away by a Pittsburgh podcaster.

Subjects Discussed: Faulkner vs. R.E.M., Southern fiction, how music influences fiction, observing unusual behavior, Thompson’s musical background, family as a starting point, taboos, the happy medium between shock value and playing it safe, stereotypes, believability, escaping into fiction, misfits and loners, connecting with despicable characters, morality in fiction, racial assumptions at the Atlantic Monthly, presenting racial conflict in fiction, and thoughts on the Southern fiction/blue-state fiction divide.

(A co-production of the LBC, Pinky’s Paperhaus, and The Bat Segundo Show.)

Esposito on Powers

Scott has an excellent Friday column on Richard Powers:

But if in Powers we lose a sense of mystery, we gain a sense of wonder. One of the most striking aspects of a Powers novel is the sense of genuine amazement at the natural world that the reader is left with. This is no small achievement tn an era in which it is often remarked that space shuttle flights are no longer televised because they have become so commonplace, so banal. Powers reveals a very real, very necessary awe at science and nature. This is no preachy exercise, no citing of facts and figures; it is something that is communicated through the stories and metaphors, something that takes hold of you as you read without Powers needing to lay it out for you. It is humbling, which I believe is exactly Powers’s point, to re-instill a needed sense of humility as humans gain truly God-like powers over their environment. This is something that neither Pynchon nor DeLillo does, something I think only a Richard Powers could do.

BSS #73: Joe Eszterhas


Author: Joe Eszterhas

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Groping for borrowed salacious content.

Subjects Discussed: Ambrose Bierce, the screenwriter as god, exclamation points, Robert McKee, the “twisted little man” inside Eszterhas, cynics in Hollywood, William Goldman, the reasons for writing Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, on pinpointing commercial hits, bringing wives to studio meetings, greed, stealing props from films, the ethics of Hollywood business, fighting studio executives, crotch shots, Paul Verhoeven, blaming Bush for everything, responding to Joe Queenan’s review, bedding stars, Charlie Simpson’s Apocaylpse, Bill Clinton, studio movies vs. independent movies, Children of Glory, and writing novels.

Pass the Crayolas Please

Discover Your Literary Personality (via Books Inq.)

My results:

You scored as A classic novel. Almost everyone showers praise upon you for your depth and enduring relevance. According to your acolytes, everything you say is timeless, erudite and meaingful. Of course, none of them actually listen to you. Nobody listens to you at all, but it’s fashionable to claim you as a friend. Fond of obscure words, antiquated notions and libraries, you never have a problem finding someone to hang out with. The fact that they end up using you to balance their kitchen tables is an unfortunate side effect, but you’re used to being used for others’ benefit. Oh the burden of being Great.

A classic novel


A coloring book




A paperback romance novel


A college textbook


The back of a froot loops box


An electronics user's manual


Your Literary Personality
created with

BSS #72: Nora Ephron


Author: Nora Ephron

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Terse, but combative towards golden boys.

Subjects Discussed: The side effects of eating cake, book tour provisos, Marie Antoinette, superthin models, anatomical parts as literary inspiration, ageism, hair dye, Botox, responding to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, declarative sentences, David Markson, the relationship between exposing truth and drawing an audience, New Journalism, the newspaper environment in the 1970s, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, exclamation points, Jonathan Yardley’s reconsideration of Crazy Salad, the real Ephron vs. the written Ephron, the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally…, dessert spoons, on not sleeping with JFK, Ephron as blogger, and using popular songs in movies.

File Under Things You Really Didn’t Want to Know About Cacuasian Literary Authors

New York Post: “Denham also recalls that Mailer, one of her literary heroes, turned out to be a bit weird. At one party, Mailer and his second wife, Adele, stripped and began jumping up and down on a bed, with Adele trying to coax Denham to get naked, too. ‘Norman was just square, no particular waist or pectoral definition, sturdy legs, large at the knees,’ and an ‘ordinary’ sex organ.”

So Who is Millenia Black?

Millenia Black recently challenged her critics with this assertion:

For those who are of a practical mindset, and to demystify my previous post, yes, a complaint was indeed filed against the publisher the first week of this month (October), in the Southern District Court of New York. Such documents are public record and are readily accessible via a simple trip to the clerk’s office.

Calling Black’s bluff, I checked the Southern District of New York Court docket. There is no “Millenia Black” lawsuit, per se. There is, however, a lawsuit filed against Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and Signet (Black’s publisher) by one Nadine Aldred, residing in Orlando, Florida. The suit was filed on October 2, 2006, within the time frame suggested by Ms. Black. It is a civil rights case: Case No. 1:06-CV-07887 to be exact, assigned to Judge Paul A. Crotty. (And if anyone wants to drop by the Southern District of New York Court (Foley Square) and pick up copies of the complaint, you can tell the clerk that the case file is available in Volume CS1.)

Is Millenia Black the nom de plume of Nadine Aldred? Well, you make the call. I should note that this is the only case filed against Penguin Group (USA) in the month of October. Further, Ms. Black’s profile indicates that she is from Florida, which matches the location of Ms. Aldred.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Aldred has not retained an attorney for this. She’s filed the lawsuit pro se, which is a fancy Latin adjective that essentially indicates that Ms. Aldred is representing herself. (And why?)

When the complaint becomes available per the Southern District of New York Court’s ECF requirements, I will investigate further.

Request for the Peanut Gallery

Okay, I’m working on something and I’ve ripped what little hair I have out of my head trying to find a specific story (possibly a short section of a novel) I’m trying to reference. We’re talking volumes ripped out of the library all over the floor. We’re talking crazed Google searches. We’re talking a few desperate emails to hard-core literary pals. This was something I read about fifteen years ago, written in a very poetic manner, that involves a man who walks the streets, who serves as a self-declared guard for a neighborhood community in an urban center but who is very much unappreciated, and whose services are scoffed at by the other people who live in the neighborhood. Think Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, but with the protagonist having more noble aspirations, a great call to duty for services that nobody around him can understand. It’s something that may have come before Ray Bradbury’s famous story “The Pedestrian,” which is similar, but not the story in question! I want to say that this was written at some point during the 1950s, but I’m not so sure. And this may have been the binding, because I think I checked this book out of a library, which is probably why I don’t have the book in question here.

I’m now considering the possibility that I somehow hallucinated this story, but I’m convinced that I read it somewhere. But it was long ago, in the days when I wasn’t so serious a reader, and I can’t recall the precise story. And this kills me, because normally I have a pretty good memory for things like this.

If anyone has any leads on this, I would be beyond appreciative! And perhaps I might send you some books or something. Any ideas what this story might be?

But Will Inept Stick Figures Get the Less Artistically Inclined Through a Side Quest?

Wired: “It works like this: In Okami, you play as a wolf that is the incarnation of an ancient Japanese god — and that has the power to literally draw things into existence. At any point in the game, you can hit a button and the scene freezes, transforming into a piece of parchment. You wield a traditional Japanese brush and ink objects on the parchment. When you unfreeze the scene, presto: Whatever you’ve painted transforms into the real, solid thing.”

I’ll Start Crying When “Bergdorf Blondes” Makes the Syllabus

Guardian: “Contemporary writers never used to feature on A-level syllabuses. For years, the nearest most candidates got to a living author were the poems that an elderly TS Eliot or WH Auden had published decades earlier. Even by the end of the 1970s, the most up-to-date fiction studied might be one of the novels published by William Golding in the 1950s. Nowadays things are different. This summer candidates were being examined on Zadie Smith, Julian Barnes and Louis de Bernières. Next summer it will be AS Byatt’s Possession and Michael Frayn’s Spies.”

Trudeau Stays the Course?

Washington Post: “It turns out he’s not afraid of publicity so much as he’s horrified at being perceived as the kind of person who wants publicity. He treasures his literary license to kill but feels a twinge of guilt that it isn’t really a fair fight. He’s a genuinely humble know-it-all. His regard for injured soldiers is sincere, his knowledge of their lingo profound, almost as if he’s one of them; watching this, you can’t help but hear faint, soul-rattling echoes of Vietnam, which he escaped, like many sons of privilege, by gaming the system. He’s got the greatest job on Earth — no boss, his own hours, enormous clout, public adulation, a seven-figure income, absolute creative freedom — but he speaks with longing about a different career altogether, one that the huge success of ‘Doonesbury’ ensured he’d never have.”

Book Standard Now Reports “Unbelievable Claims” As News

The Book Standard: “The unbelievable claim that O.J. Simpson was writing a book about how the murders of his ex-wife and her pal might have happened, had he committed them, turns out to be … not worth believing.”

Well, if the claim was so “unbelievable,” why then did The Book Standard report it as its top story on Thursday with the pretty “believable” headline “Author O.J. Simpson Gets $3.5 Mil For Confessional?” “Gets,” last time I checked, was a pretty foolproof transitive verb.

The Last Word on Millenia Black

Monica Jackson declares me a racist because I refuse to pursue the Millenia Black issue further.

I had hoped that my polite stance would be enough, but, if the cuffs are off, then my findings must be laid down on the table. Who knew that myopic demagogues like Monica Jackson were out there? People so fixed in their worldview that they cannot consider the entirely reasonable assumption that something that one person says on the Internet without a shred of supportive evidence may not be true.

First off, I am not in the habit of reporting a bullshit rumor and I am always grateful for reader corrections. I try to confirm information when I can through emails and phone calls. Here, for example, is what I’ve done about the Millenia Black matter:

I’ve talked with Millenia Black herself. I’ve talked with various people inside Penguin. I’ve attempted to contact people in the law firm who is allegedly handling the case. I’ve had exchanges with the bookstore owner. And the upshot is that the story doesn’t check out. This scenario is, as far as I can tell, a great deal of noise from an author who has no recourse for attention other than finger-pointing and lawsuit threats. Ever wonder why print journalists haven’t pursued this story? I mean, think about it. A major publishing house commits an act of apparent racism in the 21st century. It’s a perfectly interesting story that I’m sure any decent editor would lap up. Could it be that the facts are in question? That this may be a question of journalistic integrity? Could it be the same reason that newspapers didn’t immediately report the rumor planted by the National Inquirer and the Book Standard last week about O.J. Simpson getting paid $3.5 million for a book deal? Perhaps because it was utter horseshit denied by O.J. himself?

I find it ironic that the color of my skin is now being laid down as a qualifier. Is this not the same racist assumption that Ms. Black herself has accused others of all along?

Call me a racist all you want, but as Frederick Douglass once said, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

The Departed

Contrary to the raves and plaudits now making the rounds, The Departed is not a Martin Scorsese masterpiece, but of the so-called Leo Trio (The Gangs of New York and The Aviator being the first two installments of Scorsese’s Faustian deal with the studios), it is the most satisfying and truest Scorsese picture of the bunch. It’s telling that a slightly lesser Scorsese mob film, sizzling with the kind of punch and life that few contemporary films seem capable of these days, stands so distinguished against its multiplex brethren. And this probably answers Kevin’s bemusement over why so many critics have hailed The Departed as the cat’s pajamas.

the_departed-1.jpgMake no mistake: this is an intelligent and engaging two and a half hour crime caper. It delivers the goods. It’s a grand kick to see Scorsese return to film with a playful ferocity. Scorsese is very much in his element here, layering his visuals with the kind of crackling detail often overlooked by today’s emerging filmmakers. Everything from the dollops of sweat congealing on Alec Baldwin’s shirt to the lowered pistol position on Mark Wahlberg’s belt has been carefully decided upon. Scorsese makes Boston his own, opting for cool blues and greens juxtaposed against a feeling of urban decay lurking beneath the antiseptic steel of upper-class life. It’s an interesting riff on Tom Stern’s use of color in Mystic River. Only Scorsese’s long-time cinematographer Michael Ballhaus could have pulled off an homage that felt so fresh.

The great surprise is that Leo actually acts in this one. Whether this is because Scorsese has, after three films, finally figured out how to manage Leo or because Scorsese cast Bostonians Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg in an effort to get Leo to up his game is anyone’s guess. But Leo achieves a vulnerability here that recalls the Leo of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries that I suspect we won’t be seeing again in some years, particularly when he’s now being asked to don an unconvincing South African dialect for the upcoming Blood Diamond.

Matt Damon is, at long last, coming into his own as an actor. Like his role in Syriana, Damon plays another charming golden boy gone horribly askew. Damon has a screen quality which suggests a 1980s-era Michael Douglas in the making: the man who you can still empathize with even when his sleazy qualities come to the surface. In Scorsese’s hands, Colin Sullivan, the seemingly spotless state police officer seduced by betrayal, still keeps his cards close to his chest. Even in the film’s finale, we don’t quite know the full level of self-betrayal that this man is contending with. Even his attempt to pet a dog is fraught with meaning.

Scorsese keeps the pace going at a steady clip. The film moves so fast that it’s easy to overlook such preposterous plot elements such as the state police refusing to pull an officer off an investigation when a major figure is killed or the troublingly inconsistent behavior of Vera Farmiga’s psychiatrist. (Farmiga is very good in her role, but her presence here seems to be more “Oh shit! We have too many guys in this film! We need a token chick!”)

I should note that I haven’t seen Infernal Affairs, the film that The Departed is based on. So I have no basis for comparison. But I’d argue that The Departed serves, in part, as Scorsese’s response to Quentin Tarantino, a grand master both saluting his followers while schooling him for his puerile indiscretions. Consider the mysterious box that Matt Damon holds at the beginning, reminiscent of the mysterious suitcase in Pulp Fiction. Or the way Martin Sheen invites Leo into his home for leftover supper in answer to the half-hearted domesticity seen in the Kill Bill movies. Consider also the nuanced cartoonish nature of The Departed‘s violence, where characters are massacred in over-the-top but absolutely fitting ways, reminiscent of Peckinpah’s artistic balance, rather than Kill Bill‘s grindhouse excess.

On this latter point, I should observe that film geeks often forget that Scorsese has an almost absurdist relationship with violence in his films, starting from his student film The Big Shave and carrying on to such grandiose heights as Bringing Out the Dead (a film which I will confess I misread on my first viewing, only to discover that movie’s almost Moliere-like approach to the “New York as hell” metaphor). From the moment that Leo deals with the “men from Providence” shortly after finishing up some pasta, I was seduced by The Departed. It is violence that triggers the cracks of the film’s two central characters, much as it reveals the class-based chasms of the world around them. (How does Damon secure a capacious apartment with a “co-signer” anyhow? I think the answer’s in that box.)

I’ve made no mention of Nicholson, but I would contend that had De Niro occupied the role of Costello, the film could have easily dwindled into camp. And while this film needed a superstar heavy, I was more interested in Leo and Damon.