Reluctant Habits

Sarah Hall Roundtable Next Week!

Posted by in hall-sarah, Roundtable

This is just a reminder that, next week, we’ll be devoting this website to a detailed roundtable discussion of Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man. The discussion, now in progress, has generated interesting asides on epistemological obstacles, whether second-person perspective is annoying, Procrustean plot structures, Fascist flower girls, The Breakfast Club, Bright Lights, Big City, still life vs. real life, the ineffable nature of artists, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, being “an ambitious little prick” in relation to literature, William Faulkner vs. Virginia Woolf, Led Zeppelin, John Updike’s rules…read more

Good Books Don’t Have to Be Read

Posted by in grossman-lev, Reading

A good book is one that we don’t actually read. And a good book is one that a writer doesn’t actually write. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so guilty. It’s what makes pleasurable guilt so pleasurable. A box of juice reeks of crass commercialism when we insert our straws and revert back to those childhood years when the school bullies beat us up and told us that only sissies read. We crave books the way that we crave boxes of juice. There is a big man holding a gun to…read more

Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordion?

Posted by in Music


Review: The September Issue (2009)

Posted by in Film

“People are frightened of fashion,” explains the frosty Anna Wintour at the beginning of The September Issue, a documentary concerning itself with the behind-the-scenes assembly of Vogue‘s September 2007 issue. I agree with Wintour. It’s not the fashion that frightens me, but the people who feel compelled to live for nothing but fashion. Take editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley, a man so hopelessly flamboyant and fussy with his sartorial sensibilities that he cannot be bothered to wear a T-shirt and shorts on the tennis court. Why is he on the tennis…read more

RIP Ted Kennedy

Posted by in Obits, Politics


Review: Taking Woodstock (2009)

Posted by in Film, Pynchon, Thomas

The realities were already fixed; the illness was understood to be terminal, and the energies of The Movement were long since dissipated by the rush to self-preservation. — Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) Altamont’s fixed realities are thankfully mentioned at the end of Taking Woodstock, when organizer Michael Lang, portrayed here by Jonathan Groff as a perpetually calm Brian May type, mentions “a truly free concert” in the making that involves the Rolling Stones. Exciting stuff. If only Meredith Hunter had been around to lodge…read more

And a Box of Cookies

Posted by in Libraries


Little, Nameless, Unremembered

Posted by in Kindness

His voice gnawed across three thousand miles of ratty telephone lines in the days before Skype took away the novelty. He expressed kindness to a kid, never knowing how his natural equanimity gave this kid the courage to perceive chaos as a harmless Keystone Cops piefight. All you needed to do was duck or throw a rhubarb. But the kid didn’t know that then. It had been the middle of the night, and the kid was weeping. Weeping over the rushing flush that overcame him when that cute smiling girl…read more


Of Vollmann’s Imperial

Posted by in Vollmann, William

Many reviewers have kvetched a good deal about the page count and weight of William T. Vollmann’s Imperial, and this is probably because they have been forced to read the book in a swift period of time. (But if a reviewer possesses such an innate incuriosity, why on earth would she take on the assignment? There are many possible answers to this, and most of them involve snobbery.) For my own part, I am now past the halfway point of Wild Bill’s journey and I don’t feel the need to…read more


Review: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Posted by in Film

The important thing to understand about Quentin Tarantino is that, as an artist, he has no interest in real life. (Mr. Tarantino’s excellent Crate and Barrel adventure from 2004 does not help his cause, but perhaps there is a reasonable explanation.) Several dour and dense critics, most over the age of 50, cannot see this clear truth before them and have been spending the past few weeks willing their collective blood pressure to rise because they cannot pigeonhole Inglourious Basterds into that neat higher category they desire. (One wonders whether…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: Maggie Estep

Posted by in Bat Segundo

Maggie Estep appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #304. Maggie Estep is most recently the author of Alice Fantastic. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Hoping to see Alice at the next opportunity. Author: Maggie Estep Subjects Discussed: Efforts to determine if it’s good to be happy, animals throughout Estep’s work, how love for animals is directly proportional to love for human beings, Of Mice and Men, literary allusions, “The Rocking Horse Winner,” women who are described as tiny, the reverse symmetry of characters being kicked out of bed, mother figures, manuscript…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: Philip Alcabes

Posted by in Bat Segundo, disease

Philip Alcabes appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #303. Philip Alcabes is most recently the author of Dread. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Attempting to understand the certainty of certain dread, and the dread of dreadful certainty. Author: Philip Alcabes Subjects Discussed: Overstating the three Ps (pandemic, pestilence, and plague), contending with a hypothetical situation involving a Norway rat eating your sandwich for lunch, the acceptable level of fear that is required in Western society, the media’s initial coverage in 1982 of AIDS as “the gay plague,” fear of social dissolution,…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: Lizzie Skurnick II

Posted by in Bat Segundo

Lizzie Skurnick appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #302. Lizzie Skurnick is most recently the author of Shelf Discovery. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #13. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Sacrificing his manhood to fight the patriarchal overlords. Author: Lizzie Skurnick Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming, but oh quite a strange potpourri! Everything from redheads, television rape, Jean Auel, whether patriarchy or elitism is responsible for YA/genre ghettoization, and whether or not Judy Blume's Wifey involves punishing the heroine.] EXCERPT FROM SHOW: Skurnick: You know, you make up a…read more

Hate Mail Dramatic Reading Project #1

Posted by in Dramatic Readings, Hate Mail

Last week, I learned that somebody really hated my guts. This person never actually told me why. So I sent this person an email with my phone number, inviting the person to give me a call and make amends through civil discourse. I received a most extraordinary response from this individual — one that has quite pleasantly inspired me to start a new audio series. The following clip represents my dramatic reading of this individual’s hate mail to me, read in a melodramatic, quasi-Shakespearean style. I hope to start reading…read more

That Old Reading Magic

Posted by in russo-richard, weiner-jennifer

My review of Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic appears in today’s Chicago Sun-Times. And just to be clear on this, I filed my review weeks before I offered my thoughts on the Newsweek contretemps and before my second interview with the man. But there’s an additional issue that worries me, one recently voiced by Jennifer Weiner. Like Russo’s latest novel, Weiner’s book, Best Friends Forever, includes a lengthy chapter in Cape Cod — a surprisingly dark and creepy flashback that reveals significant behavioral details — and, like Russo, concerns…read more


The Bat Segundo Show: Richard Russo II

Posted by in Bat Segundo, russo-richard

Richard Russo recently appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #301. Richard Russo is most recently the author of That Old Cape Magic. He previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #152. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Shoving Cape Cod mackerel down his throat. Author: Richard Russo Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming, but lots in the latter half of the show about the Newsweek piece and the perceptive problems with close third-person.] EXCERPT FROM SHOW: Correspondent: Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” Why “Living on a Prayer” over “You Give Love a Bad…read more

Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)

Posted by in Film

“Come with me if you want to love.” I expected that line at several points, and I confess that great expectation as a man who wanted to believe in this film. You see, aside from being a geek, I am also known to be something of a romantic sap. But the line never came. Henry, our buck naked SNAG and presumed protagonist, has this troubling tendency of emerging in some random time period, often fumbling around for fresh clothes, sometimes smashing in a car window, but always speaking in that…read more

Review: Taxidermia (2006)

Posted by in Film

I don’t know if I would go so far as to call György Pálfi our next Fellini (circa late 1960s), our next Pasolini, or even some predictable filmmaker going out of his way to offend us — even if the visual cues for his most recent film suggests all this. But he does have talent. And Taxidermia, which finally gets a limited and long overdue American release this Friday, is certainly not for weak stomachs or limited-minded men who cloak their shallow prejudicial insights inside the sheltered caverns of higher…read more

The Underestimated Nicholas Meyer

Posted by in Reviews

In today’s Barnes & Noble Review, I take on Nicholas Meyer’s The View from the Bridge. Meyer is best known as the man behind Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the film that arguably saved the Star Trek franchise (for better or worse). But people often overlook the fact that Meyer also wrote a series of amusing Sherlock Holmes pastiches (beginning with The Seven Per-Cent Solution), as well as the 1983 TV movie, The Day After. Meyer is a far more interesting figure than most people give him credit…read more


Review: Wolke Neun (2008)

Posted by in Film, Sex

My first instinct was to dismiss the silly second half of Andreas Dresen’s Wolke Neun (Cloud 9 for Yanks), which wallows in childish dialogue (“That’s just so mean!”) and betrays its wonderful first half. But after chewing on this film over the last few days, I’ve found, much to my surprise, that it has stuck with me. I’ve come around to the possibility that these melodramatic developments are, in fact, essential to the film’s broader point. I don’t believe (and my apologies to Jane Juska) this film is really about…read more

Sarah Hall Roundtable

Posted by in hall-sarah, Roundtable

During the week of September 7, 2009, this website will be devoting its attentions to discussing Sarah Hall’s forthcoming novel, How to Paint a Dead Man. The novel, recently longlisted for the Booker Prize, concerns itself with four stories taking place over half a century. And we have assembled a rowdy crew to oar through these promising waters. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Hall, you can read my essay on her first three novels for The Barnes and Noble Review. You can also listen to my one hour podcast…read more

Linkrot on Steroids: The Problems with URL Shorteners

Posted by in Linkrot, Twitter

As Simon Owens recently observed, — a service that shortened URLs — is now gone. The links that it once helpfully compressed are now useless. For those who may have passed on a link to a pal, tweeted a particularly helpful article, or otherwise stopped an unruly URL from breaking in two because of a monitor’s constraining width, this metadata means nothing. How long will it be before all the other URL shortening services are about as valuable as a maniac with a fetish for smearing Crisco on random…read more


Kodak Promotes Piracy! (1984)

Posted by in Commercials, Piracy



Posted by in Film

(Paean for the eccentric and the misunderstood courtesy of banter from Megg and Kevin at Quiddity.)


David Ulin: A Books Editor to Be Deactivated

Posted by in Los Angeles Times, Reading, ulin-david

If you are a humorless books editor packing mundanities (while also resorting to the groundless Sven Birkerts-style grumbling about online interlopers who express more enthusiasm about books in 140 characters than you can in 800 words) into a badly written piece about just how gosh darn hard it is for you to sit down and read, then you have no business keeping your job. David Ulin’s piece is not so much an essay, as it is a confession from an out-of-touch and calcified man who clearly does not love books…read more


RIP John Hughes

Posted by in Film, Obits

John Hughes was associated with launching the careers of Brat Packers Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall and for lacing his entertainments with candid teenage dialogue of rare understanding. But it was John Candy who made Hughes a true comedic filmmaker and who gave Hughes the heart that his films needed to extend beyond populist entertainments. Hughes’s “adult” period, initiated by his masterpiece Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, produced a series of unusually accessible takes into middle-class culture. And it’s a pity that Hughes didn’t trust himself to push his perceptive…read more


The Impotance [sic] of the Editor

Posted by in Keller, Bill, New York Times

Editor & Publisher has revealed that Kill Beller doesn’t believe editors is necessary. Beller, whom is the Executive Washroom of the New Turk Times, believes that Assendup Stanley, the media critic who got a few things wrong about Walter Disney’s recent death, is “a brilliant critic.” But the future of the public editor has remained “much debated within out walls.” In congress with James Rainey to the Los Angles Time, Beller moaned loudly about some “cocks” being given too much leeway. But most of the Beller comics were not used…read more


An Open Letter to Newsweek’s Richard Smith and Jon Meacham

Posted by in russo-richard

Dear Messrs. Smith and Meacham: It was bad enough when you obliterated nearly all of your arts editors and senior cultural critics with the March 2008 buyouts. But, even before this great purge, your magazine was notably egregious. Malcolm Jones couldn’t be bothered to perform the basic professional task of reading the entirety of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, but you ran his “review” anyway instead of canning his ass. (Interestingly, Mr. Jones’s “review” has been conveniently deleted from the Newsweek website.) The Newsweek “article” posted today, Jennie Yabroff’s “Is…read more


2009 is Boring By Comparison

Posted by in Journalism

At the bash at Jimmy’s that Warner Brothers records gave for Alan Price (he wrote the score for “O Lucky Man!” and performs in the film), Malcolm McDowell’s cock was the center of attraction. The wife of a rock writer couldn’t take her eyes off of his pants and she said she’d give a year of her life to be with Malcolm — in them. Malcolm posed for photos with Alice Cooper. Alice wore teeny hot pants which showed his inverted belly-button and little else. He said the last film…read more


The Critics

Posted by in Critics

The critics fidgeted in their fat chairs, boasting of long lunches with publicists and grand gifts from studios, while waiting for the descent into darkness. They were all men – or, at least, the kind of inactive men who were becoming more commonly accepted in the early years of the twenty-first century. They couldn’t be bothererd to take a stand, unless you counted the pretentious essays they wrote for well-funded websites (and maybe one of those rare dead tree outlets) that only a handful of snobs regarded. They could talk…read more