Reluctant Habits

On Cruelty and Journalism

Posted by in Abu Ghraib, Cruelty, Journalism, Zimbardo

A kid eagerly opens his Xmas present. His eyes light up with happiness and great shock. How did his parents manage to pull it off? It’s an Xbox! Something that the kids down the street have and that mock him for not having. But his parents somehow pulled all their pennies together and came through. “Open it!” screech his parents, knowing that the kid’s about to get a surprise. And the kid rips open the cardboard, only to find that within the box are a handful of shirts. But that’s…read more



Posted by in Uncategorized

I’m a bit wiped from last night’s interview with Marshall Klimasewiski, but thank you to all who came! I hope to offer content later. But in the meantime, recuperation is currently required. I’m also pleased to announce that we’ve arranged for a number of people to discuss Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and that, during the week of March 10, 2008, we’ll be offering a five-day discussion of this book, with a few unexpected cameo appearances. But in the meantime, don’t miss Baker’s “The Charms of Wikipedia,” in the latest New…read more


Interview with Marshall Klimasewiski — Tonight!

Posted by in Uncategorized

Tonight, I’ll be talking with Marshall Klimasewiski, author of The Cottagers and now Tyrants, at 7:00 PM. The event will take place at McNally Robinson, located at 52 Prince Street, New York, NY. The event is free, the conversation will also be available later as a podcast, but we will also be taking questions from the audience. For more details on this event, go here. To listen to my previous conversation with Mr. Klimasewiski, go here.


The Myth of Karma

Posted by in Edward Champion, Faith, Karma, Religion

One is tempted to look upon an array of serendipitous factors, particularly those that are strange and unfavorable, and find some cosmic justification for karmic retribution. Some are tempted to attribute this casual anarchy to a deity, but I prefer to embrace the innate timbre of chaos and exist within these wild whorls as naturally as possible, while likewise respecting the rights of those who require an explanation to be taken up among similarly bewildered but ultimately good-natured people on a weekly basis. Just don’t proselytize. That’s all I ask….read more

A Can of Grape Soda

Posted by in Beverages, Drink, Edward Champion, Food, Grape Soda, Maps, Topography, Uncategorized

It’s safe to say that most of us fail to observe where our food comes from. I am currently examining an empty aluminum can of Welch’s Grape Soda, which was imbibed about four hours ago and was abandoned on my desk. In tall and semi-gothic lettering, the words NEW YORK appear — as if to suggest some homestate affinity, perhaps a reason for another beverage enthusiast to slap me on the back with an avuncular gusto as we down a few cans of Welch’s. Less comforting than these words is…read more


The Devil and Miss Cody

Posted by in Academy Awards, Diablo Cody, Film, Movies

Diablo Cody’s win over Tamara Jenkins for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar is perhaps the most egregious Oscar victory since Oliver! beat out 2001 for Best Picture in 1968. If this were a just universe, the appropriate executives would have taken Cody out behind the shed shortly after reading Juno and shot her down like an old dog. Instead, the Academy awarded Cody the Oscar for relying upon cultural references over emotional conviction, for using characters who are ironically detached rather than prepared to face the visceral realities of responsibility,…read more


Insert Interview Excerpt Here

Posted by in Uncategorized

Folks, I am a bit knackered. So I hope you’ll pardon the silence on this end. It’s been a six interviews in seven days and trying to meet deadlines kind of week — and one interview even involved a crazed three hour drinking session. But there are some really interesting pieces in the works from some other writers and some exciting folks in store for Segundo. And four new podcasts were released a few days ago. I’ll have capsules later. And I’ll also have an excerpt from a rather amazing…read more


Steroid Nation and American Gladiators

Posted by in American Gladiators, Michael Czobit, Steroids

They are the new Davids. Granted they are not singularly recognizable –- they are remarkably generic –- but the bodybuilders slash athletes on American Gladiators represent the ideal male appearance. At least I think so, having had my ideal male physique built on a foundation of images of professional wrestlers and action movie stars. My sole reason for watching NBC’s new incarnation of American Gladiators was the Gladiators. All twelve of them, including the women, have boring if not humorous names: Titan, Wolf, Justice, Militia, Toa, Mayhem, Venom, Fury, Stealth,…read more


The Irresponsible Self

Posted by in Book Reviewing, James Wood, Nigel Beale

“A genre is hardening. It is becoming possible to describe today’s ‘big, ambitious novel.’ Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: Dickens.” — James Wood, “Hysterical Realism.” “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.” Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto Both of these opening sallies conjure the ominous, sharing a rhythmic persuasiveness that holds the reader’s attention…read more


The Other Bald Man

Posted by in Baldness, Edward Champion, Socializing

Whenever I go to a party, particularly one with lithe lads and lasses who are a good five or seven years younger than me, I feel a great sense of delight when another bald man arrives. “Aha!” I cry. “One of my kind!” Any lingering nervousness lifts. And I often single out my bald compatriot with a cheery hello, sometimes offering a telling wink or a gentle, avuncular nudge. It is my hope to imbue any bald man with a sense that they could be as badass as Samuel L….read more


Weekend Diversions: Lyrebirds

Posted by in Uncategorized

The lyrebird, most commonly found in Australia, is capable of mimicking an extraordinary range of sounds while singing to attract a mate. But as the below clip with David Attenborough demonstrates, humans aren’t always aware of the considerable impact they have upon nature. As reported in 2001 by the Register and in 2005 by the Hindustan Times, birds have also picked up an uncanny ability to impersonate ringtones. But perhaps the saddest part of this story is the possibility put forth by the National Audubon Society last year: noise pollution…read more


NYTBR: Bill Keller Can Do No Wrong

Posted by in Bill Keller, Book Reviewing, Journalistic Ethics, New York Times, Ruth Conniff, Sam Tanenhaus

Just when you think the New York Times Book Review couldn’t get any sleazier, editor Sam Tanenhaus has proven yet again that there isn’t an unctuous pool he won’t dive into. The latest disgrace is Ruth Conniff’s review of Bill Keller’s Tree Shaker. Bill Keller, of course, is the executive editor of the New York Times and Conniff’s review is perhaps the most egregious conflict of interest in the NYTBR‘s entire history. Conniff isn’t critical one whit about Tree Shaker. The review may as well have recycled the book’s press…read more


The Politics of Boasting

Posted by in 2008 Election, Arrogance, Barack Obama, Dubya, Hillary Clinton, Levi Asher, Politics, Pride

We don’t often look to electoral politics for sublime life lessons, yet sometimes the lessons are there. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, two popular Republican politicians, have dropped out of the 2008 presidential race. Both candidates exemplified an attitude that has been with us forever but seems to have a peculiar hold on our own time: the attitude of arrogance, or vain overconfidence. Perhaps voters wished to punish this attitude by refusing to vote for either man. Rudy Giuliani’s smug self-assurance had been legendary during his long career as District…read more


Diary of the Dead

Posted by in Diary of the Dead, Edward Champion, Film, George Romero

Diary of the Dead is going to split critics. The film snobs who can’t handle a populist movie with a brain will groan (as many did quite audibly at the screening I attended). The hard-core Romero fans looking for Savini-style gore will be disheartened by the film’s focus on the internal (although there is one glorious zombie moment involving a defibrillator). This is a pity, because Diary of the Dead is a gutsy and energetic film that believes in its audience more than Land of the Dead ever did. Romero…read more


I Need a Husband!

Posted by in Atlantic Monthly, Edward Champion, Lazy Journalism, Lori Gottlieb, Relationships, Sexism, Women

About six months after I continued to remain happy and childless, I saw a woman sitting with her son on a blanket. Her name, I later discovered, was Lori and she was there with her friend Caitlin. It was a sunny summer weekend, and there were parents and kids picnicking nearby. The day had been going fine, until Lori started checking out my ass in a really intense way. Which was odd, because I have an okay ass. Nothing to write home about. I guess it was an ass you…read more


Day Away

Posted by in Uncategorized

Pleasant personal circumstances call me elsewhere today. But I will return very soon with an essay on contemporary horror films, with some lengthy thoughts on George Romero’s Diary of the Dead. Also, it’s good to see that ex-Publishers Weekly junket whore Karen Holt has landed on her feet at an outlet suitably tailored to her ethics and talents.


Chapter One

Posted by in Edward Champion, Humanity Unlimited, Tayari Jones

On Sunday night, I stepped into the chilly cold and ventured off to see two fabulous pals — Matt Cheney and Tayari Jones — read at the Sunday Salon series with the ebullient Frances Madeson and the somewhat intense Tony D’Souza. All four readers were compelling, but the biggest surprise came when Tayari, who had assured me early on that she would be reading a “rerun,” inveigled the crowd with a chapter from her forthcoming novel, citing, to my surprise, me specifically as the guy who had seen the act…read more


Conscience and Integrity

Posted by in Criticism, Edward Champion, Judgment, Reading, Zadie Smith

He was a passionate devotee of David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, and many others who he sensed were writing the Great American Novel. He made acquaintances with a few of his heroes, attending workshops and the like. And he spent eleven years working on his novel. Because he needed his novel to be perfect. To his mind, this was the only way he could live up. He didn’t realize that great novels — and indeed great art — often happen by accident. By routine. By turning around work and getting…read more


Law of Averages

Posted by in Charles Baxter, Edward Champion, Reading

I hope to find more time to write at length about Charles Baxter’s extraordinary novel, The Soul Thief. Beyond Baxter nailing the relationship of “God Only Knows” to Brian Wilson’s personal development as an artist, one is tempted to read Nathaniel’s relationship with his parents in the context of this interesting essay (in which Baxter’s son offers annotated responses in relation to remembered anecdotes) contained in this month’s issue of The Believer. There is also this striking passage, to be considered in the same context as Philip Roth’s American Pastoral…read more


Breaking News: Snobbery Ain’t Cute

Posted by in Edward Champion, Laziness, Reading Contests, Zadie Smith

Dear Zadie Smith: Well, this isn’t a difficult thing to write. Because the kind of sanctimonious attitude you espouse with your open letter really doesn’t tell us the whole story.* Really, what happened here? Did you actually read all of the entries? Or did you shoot them down on sight because the first sentence wasn’t some florid specimen of “originality?” You know, “One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father” wasn’t exactly the kind of sentence I’d write home about. (And neither, for that matter, was Forster’s…read more


A Tribute to Frank Wilson

Posted by in Book Reviewing, Edward Champion, Frank Wilson, Philadelphia, Philly Inquirer

Frank Wilson will be hanging up his hat as books editor of the Philly Inquirer on Friday and I feel that the battle to save book reviewing sections has been lost. I figured that if Frank could keep his books section running, the newspaper situation would be okay. I know that there were many struggles to keep the section afloat and that Frank worked damn hard at his job, often performing double duty on other arts sections. But he won’t tell you about what he went through. Because he’s always…read more


Dave Itzkoff: The Genre Dunce Who Won’t Stop Dancing

Posted by in Book Reviewing, Dave Itzkoff, Edward Champion, New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus

Dave Itzkoff has been an embarrassment to the New York Times Book Review for some time, imbuing his “Across the Universe” columns with a know-nothing hubris that one expects from an investment banker who considers himself an art expert simply because he’s had his secretary send in a tax-deductible donation to the opera. Never mind that he hasn’t once listened to Verdi. But Itzkoff’s latest piece truly demonstrates that the wretched and rackety well has no bottom limit. Reading Itzkoff is like being paired up with some otiose oaf on…read more


Until Next Week

Posted by in Uncategorized

I’ve conducted four interviews in the past two days and there are many deadlines I have to beat. But a number of very interesting items are coming up here in written and audio form next week. So for now, I leave you with a compilation of Captain Kirk’s amorous conquests: