Reluctant Habits

Are Bookstores Being Too Censorious With Author Events?

Posted by in Barnes & Noble, Bookstores, Censorship, weiner-jennifer

Jennifer Weiner is a best-selling author. And while her latest novel, Best Friends Forever, proved popular enough to hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, this didn’t stop a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Framingham, Massachusetts from raising a censorious eyebrow. Some bookstores have begun instituting informal policies which preclude authors from using four-letter words during a public reading. And even dependable draws like Weiner are being asked to hold their tongues. These developments — reflected most recently in the Weiner case — raise new questions about just…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: J. Robert Lennon

Posted by in Bat Segundo

J. Robert Lennon appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #300. J. Robert Lennon is most recently the author of Castle and Pieces for the Left Hand. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Contemplating his surprising longevity after 300 shows. Author: J. Robert Lennon Subjects Discussed: Ending sentences with nouns, how location affects character description, objects and places as the territory of a story, how the land in upstate New York inspires narrative, objects that regular readers can relate to, lost childhood, lost parents, more isolated characters in Lennon’s later novels, meals in…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: Douglas Rushkoff

Posted by in Bat Segundo

Douglas Rushkoff appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #299. Douglas Rushkoff is the author of Life, Inc. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Surprised to discover someone more contentious than he is. Author: Douglas Rushkoff Subjects Discussed: The wage labor system established in Portugal in 1253, Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages, whether the day laborer can stand up, children and branding, people who attend Wealth Expo, the real estate market, pyramid schemes, The Secret, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the relationship between self-actualization and helping other people, social interaction,…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: China Mieville II

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Miéville, China

China Mieville recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #298. China Mieville is most recently the author of The City & The City. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #105. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for the Mieville and the Mieville. Author: China Mieville Subjects Discussed: When The City & The City was written, speculating on the novel’s setting, ratty technology and shambolic modern cities, passenger policy, comparisons between The City & The City and “Reports of Certain Events in London,” subconscious intent and conceptual framework, police procedural…read more

Ghost Busters (1954)

Posted by in Film


Review: Lorna’s Silence (2009)

Posted by in Film

What follows are the notes I took during Lorna’s Silence, which opens in limited release this Friday: Shuffling of notes under window. Pan up to woman. Counting. 340. Appointment. A loan. Will be Belgian soon. Against yellow wall at beginning. Green. Red counter. Blue. Talking. Telecom. Hair. Roommate. One euro ten. Close the curtains. Moving the bed. Told him no. (No cards.) Turn the music down. Music. Not so bad. Hide her. Hold on. Lorna — calls in the night. Have to be up at six. Not going. Quit. Look…read more

You Can’t Write About It

Posted by in Writing

You can’t write a deeply critical piece on Obama and patiently explain that you’re a liberal. You can’t make fun of the homeless or the disabled or the flawed, and yet you also can’t bring yourself to condemn Governor Schwarzenegger’s callous slash and burn, which will hurt many people. You can’t write against a popular position and be considered anything less than a predictable contrarian. You can’t take chances. You can’t express your feelings in this foolishly rational age. For you’ll lose your precious sinecure at the newspaper. You can’t…read more


RIP Merce Cunningham

Posted by in Obits

New York Times: “He went on doing so almost to the last. Until 1989, when he reached the age of 70, he appeared in every single performance given by his company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company; in 1999, at 80, though frail and holding onto a barre, he danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the New York State Theater. And in 2009, even after observing his 90th birthday with the world premiere of the 90-minute ‘Nearly Ninety,’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music he went on choreographing for his dancers,…read more


Did the New Yorker Make Nicholson Baker Elitist?

Posted by in Amazon, Baker, Nicholson, Elitism, Kindle, New Yorker

Last year, the New York Review of Books had the bright idea of commissioning Nicholson Baker to write an exuberant essay about Wikipedia. Beginning with the simple sentence, “Wikipedia is just an incredible thing,” Baker’s piece went on to chart his participation and subsequent obsession with the well-known website. Baker expressed his genuine horror at cavalierly deleted articles and depicted the many communal surprises he found along the way. It was a journey of self-discovery that permitted many who had used Wikipedia to rediscover the collective pixie dust selflessly sprinkled…read more


A Taxonomy of Book Bloggers (2009 Edition)

Posted by in Blogging

Since the book blogging world changes so frequently — with its first waves and second waves, its stormy internecine battles, and its endless capacity for argument over trivial subjects — I thought the time had come to identify the many different types presently occupying the online literary scene. I need not state my own expertise and qualifications on this topic. I have been a litblogger for six years and I possess such an uncontrolled ego that I have been engaged in some kind of skirmish with every known person writing…read more

Get the Pitchforks! The Mermaid Has Breasts!

Posted by in Political Correctness

The cover for the Realms of Fantasy reboot (pictured at right) has generated a number of prissy blog posts from the likes of K. Tempest Bradford — truly inhabiting a teapot — and Jim C. Hines. The charge? Because the cover features a mermaid who has bared breasts, it is somehow sexist. Never mind that the image in question here does not present the mermaid as a sex object. (Surely a pair of extended gumdrop nipples, a sexist “Fuck me” pout, or some dreadful violation from a satyr would have…read more

Freaks With Bullhorns

Posted by in Verizon

More background here and here.



Posted by in Poverty

His life broke weeks before he became eligible to run for President. Not that he wanted the job, although if the country suddenly decided to employ multiple Presidents, he’d happily take the annual four hundred thou. Hell, he’d even take a pay cut if it meant four years of job security. Surely, the free market forces that had taken over the government many decades ago would welcome that. But he understood that they weren’t filling the position for another three years. And there were more immediate concerns, such as his…read more

Those Who Resist the End of Racial Profiling

Posted by in Fourth Amendment, gates-henry-louis, Racial Profiling, Racism

It didn’t take long for the gutless Washington Post writer Neely Tucker to chicken out on the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. arrest. Beginning his article with the lame certainty of a Duck and Cover film, Tucker wasted no time suggesting that the conformist maxim “Don’t Mess With Cops” was “one of the common-sense rules of life.” Tell that to the 320 people who complained of racial profiling in 2007 to the Los Angeles Police Department, only for the LAPD to report back in April 2008 that not a single case…read more

Regretting the Error

Posted by in Technical

Early this morning, a piece appeared on these pages that took to task Neely Tucker’s article in the Washington Post. I used a historical example from 1766, but neglected to point out one minor but pivotal detail — indeed, one that I had forgotten, until two readers pointed it out to me — that pretty much destroyed my thesis. Therefore, I have removed the piece from these pages and apologize for my error. I thank the readers for pointing out this indiscretion and I will endeavor to pay closer attention…read more


“I Have Every Credit Card Known to Man”

Posted by in Film


Understanding the General Audience

Posted by in Book Reviewing

On the morning of July 21, 2009, Washington Post books editor Ron Charles expressed some concerns about book reviewers on Twitter: At the risk of clearing my own throat (and with all due respect to Mr. Charles), I’m wondering if the 2008 winner of the Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing really has a handle on the type of writing that is likely to attract readers to his newspaper section. Mr. Charles’s editorial sensibilities call for clear and direct writing. But his other entreaties are problematic. He asks that a…read more

Critical Ass

Posted by in nbcc

From the latest National Book Critics Circle newsletter: Eric Banks then spoke about the blogging committee. Our blog visitor numbers, he said, are down sharply. We’re getting only 10,000 visits per month, with an average of 250-500 each day. One of the problems is that Google is misdirecting people to the old blog which is no longer forwarding reliably to the new one. It was suggested that we create a wikiprofile and Jane Ciabattari underlined the importance of blog visits when it comes to our application for NEA funding. Everyone,…read more


The History of Verizon, Part Four (November 2000 to December 2000)

Posted by in Business, History, Telecommunications, Verizon

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This post continues my comprehensive history about the expansion of Verizon. This most recent installment takes the story through the end of 2000. Part One, which concerns itself with April to August 2000, can be found here. Part Two, which concerns itself with August 2000, can be found here. Part Three, which concerns itself with September and October 2000, can be found here.] Like any mushrooming company hoping to discharge its spores upon every square mile in a new field, Verizon had its lobbyists. In 1999 and 2000,…read more

New Review

Posted by in Reviews

My review of Chuck Barris’s Who Killed Art Deco? appears in today’s Chicago Sun-Times. And truthfully, the review is far crankier than I remember it being when I filed it. Indeed, the piece is more than a bit ridiculous with some of its pedantic quibbles. I don’t know how many reviewers would actually confess such qualities, but I am committed to candor. This is a Chuck Barris novel, for crying out loud. Not a Donald Westlake novel. But it was an annoying book with homophobic conceits.


RIP Walter Cronkite

Posted by in Journalism, Obits

Walter Cronkite died on Friday. He was great and irreplaceable. The last living newsman that America could trust, save perhaps Jimmy Breslin. One views the above clip in our present age of “journalists” relying on unconfirmed Twitter feeds and green-tinted avatars, and TMZ staffers shredding every form of privacy and decency to take cred for some haphazard scrap of dirty underwear, and it is almost inconceivable for any network television anchor to now state, as Cronkite once did, “This is a rumor. This we do not know for a fact.”…read more


The Bat Segundo Show: Ellen Ruppel Shell

Posted by in Bat Segundo, cheap, ruppel-shell-ellen

Ellen Ruppel Shell appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #297. Ellen Ruppel Shell is most recently the author of Cheap. The book was also featured in an in-depth five-part discussion with several thoughtful people, which you can investigate here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Bargain hunting for alcohol. Author: Ellen Ruppel Shell Subjects Discussed: Pinpointing the phenomenon of discount culture, Edward Bernays, bargain hunting, game theory, Gresham’s law, fixed pricing vs. elastic pricing, John Wanamaker and the price tag, haggling,…read more

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Five

Posted by in cheap, Roundtable, ruppel-shell-ellen

(This is the fifth of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.) (A podcast interview with author Ellen Ruppel Shell will follow this afternoon. Thanks to all the roundtable participants for their input, Penguin Press for providing us with the books, and for Ms. Ruppel Shell for her time and generosity.) Erin O’Brien writes: I thought one of the most stunning aspects of our conversation was how emotional many of us…read more

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Four

Posted by in cheap, Roundtable, ruppel-shell-ellen

(This is the fourth of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Five.) Edward Champion writes: I’m going to attempt to address as many of these interesting points as I can, even as we await Levi’s answer with book before him and take up Miracle Jones’s sensible advice on how to live cheap. Early into the discussion, Peggy mentioned that she thought Ruppel Shell hadn’t entirely considered the idea of community-based commerce. …read more


Posted by in Ed's Films, New York

“Subway” — the fourth installment of my “Anthropological Film” series — was shot and edited on July 14, 2009. For some unknown reason, I took my camera with me for a job interview. Since I had arrived at the Times Square station early, I began shooting to pass the time and satiate my fascination with what I was observing around me. I figured that this was a film that I could work on later, possibly “anthropological” or not. But that evening, I became haunted by the subway and felt compelled…read more


Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Three

Posted by in cheap, Roundtable, ruppel-shell-ellen

(This is the third of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Four, and Part Five.) Jackson West writes: Sadly, like Kathleen, I wasn’t particularly surprised by many of the examples used in Cheap.  However, unlike Kathleen, I’m a bit of a bargain hunting hobbyist — mostly in the realm of clothes, food and media.  Because, as many of you know, writing isn’t exactly the quickest way to riches these days (if it ever was). …read more

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part Two

Posted by in cheap, Roundtable, ruppel-shell-ellen

(This is the second of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part One, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.) Kathleen Maher writes: I am not quite finished reading Cheap, but I have to admit that I’m finding it more interesting than I expected, seeing that I generally don’t read non-fiction and can’t stand shopping — especially for bargains.   I enjoyed the quick history of American department stores and such trivia as the invention of the price tag.  But…read more

Ellen Ruppel Shell’s CHEAP — Part One

Posted by in cheap, Roundtable, ruppel-shell-ellen

(This is the first of a five-part roundtable discussion of Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. Other installments: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.) Since present economic developments have caused nearly all of us to reconsider just how we spend our money, I selected Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap for our latest roundtable discussion. For those readers who aren’t familiar with the roundtable discussions, this website will be devoting the entire week to discussing Ruppel Shell’s book, and we’ll be serializing the conversation in…read more

Golden Hour

Posted by in Ed's Films, New York

“Golden Hour,” which was shot at and around Riverside Park, is the third of what I’m calling my “anthropological films.” You can watch it above or click through to YouTube to see it in HD. (The series started with “Bubbles: A Consideration” and continued with “Dia de los Vivos.”) Like the other two films, this installment deals with certain glimpses of New York that most New Yorkers seem to ignore or fail to appreciate. This latest film chronicles aspects of how we live that were put into place decades ago…read more


The Bat Segundo Show: Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan

Posted by in Bat Segundo

Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #296. Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan are most recently the authors of Beyond Heaving Bosoms. They are also the proprietors of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Subjects Discussed; Kathleen Woodwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, the beginnings of original paperback romance, genre respectability, romance’s profitability, the stigma of effeminacy, cozy mysteries, arterial bloodspray, the fallacious anatomical placement of the hymen, spontaneously lactating virgins, whether the pun is intended or not, editorial house style and “the magic hoo hoo,” the wandering…read more