Truthful speaking would be a simple way to tell the truth, if the truth were simple and could be told.

30 April 2011

03 November 2010

In Laura Miller's Defense

Earlier this week, Laura Miller, one of the head writers at (which is a great Web site), wrote a piece actively speaking out against National Novel Writing Month.  This inspired some anger by contributers. Carolyn Kellogg, another critic whose opinion I respect, posted up a response on the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy (my second favorite book blog, right after The New Yorker's The Book Bench).  The comments are filled with even more anger and derision directed toward Miller.

Now, I don't agree with Miller's main argument, but I do think she's right in the fact that too many aspiring writers don't think they actually need to bother reading anything.  My main argument:  she totally went the wrong way of approaching this issue.  The following is a response I posted in the comments section.  It's narcissistic, sure, to post it twice.

One:  in reply to an earlier poster, Miller's "Magician's Book" is very much not an anti-Chronicles of Narnia book.  It's a book about how the things you read generally shift in their meaning and importance as you grow older.  She loved them, then felt betrayed, then came to appreciate them for something that she never realized were a part of the story.  

Two:  Generally speaking, Miller's recommendations of books are frequently spot-on.  Her interests are broad and its appreciable that she's been one of the many professional proponents of the not labeling genre.  (Among her book club choices for this year:  "The Passage" and "Freedom."  One of her best reviews:  Gary Shytengart's "Super Sad True Love Story.")  She's less prejudiced and more open toward a story than Michiko Kakutani and B. R. Myers and James Wood, who escape general ire because they consider themselves so high brow.

Three:  In her article, Miller explicitly stated that she has no desire to be a novelist.  This criticism launched against her must have come from the same place the birthers pull their theories.  

Four:  O.K., she has an argument, and it's not untrue that a great deal of people who are working on a novel don't bother to actually read anything in their free time (or at any time at all) apart from social mediated status updates, but in this piece in particular she does not deliver it well at all, and it's probably unfair to use National Novel Writing Month as her launchpad.  She kind of goes all over the place and makes these oft-mentioned negative generalizations. 

I was an English major; I'm going to be an English major again, and when I went to school I was all stoked that I would be surrounded by people who read a lot of books and had all these ideas and recommendations and everything.  Turns out, I was the one who read all the books and had all the recommendations, all these other English majors were either aspiring teachers (which is an even larger problem, considering more than a few of them did not believe Gregor Samson turned into a vermin, but felt like one for the whole narrative, and I could go on) or just thought they would receive an easy degree.  We were given DeLillo's "Libra" -- a novel that demands patience and rereading -- and hardly anyone liked it because it wasn't immediate and RIGHT THERE.  When DFW died, hardly anyone in any of my classes seemed to care.  Pynchon wasn't a recognized name.   Miller's pieces often helped steer me in some direction, toward something in a line of inspired reading.  

I think Miller's criticism is mis-directed in her article, and you can feel her trying to assemble the disjointed, disproportionate pieces together to form her cohesive whole (which, of course, leaves many gaping holes that we're having so much fun pointing out).  National Novel Writing Month and its participants aren't deserving of her ire.  Still:  she's among the strongest critics writing right now (especially w/r/t those on the Internet) and any activist of reading, even with the occasional misstep, as this one so very very evidently is, is someone still worth listening too.

ALSO:  a few months ago, when The Guardian put out a list of a bunch of writers given writerly advice, Miller contributed a list of elements that readers enjoy.  You'd think it'd be self-evident, some of the things she points out, but there are still plenty of aspiring writers who claim they don't have the time to read but still think they'll produce something great.  Read that instead of this one.

17 June 2010

TV Shows

Pick your five favorite TV shows (in no particular order) and answer the following questions. Don’t cheat!

1.  Pushing Daisies
2.  30 Rock
3.  Avatar:  The Last Airbender
4.  The Simpsons
5.  Mad Men

Who’s your favorite character in 2?
Liz Lemon.  That poor girl who's just trying to find love.  Yeah, I know it's a cheat to heart the main character, but whatever.

Who’s your least favorite character in 1?
Chuck.  She doesn't do a whole lot but complain and whine.  I agree with Emerson Cod about her most of the time. 

What’s your favorite episode of 4?
Tough but I liked the parody of Cape Fear (titled Cape Feare) quite a lot. 

What’s your favorite season of 5?
The third.  The season finale was like the best episode of that show ever.  EVER.

How long have you watched 1?
From the day it premiered to long past its abrupt and inhumane cancellation.

How did you become interested in 3?
Kept hearing about it, seeing toys of Aang, etc. popping up everywhere, reruns on Nickelodean, saw that there was a movie coming out, saw that the first season was streaming on Netflix, and then just got carried away.  Now I don't wanna see the movie for fear that it'll taint the TV show.

Who’s your favorite actor in 4?
Either Dan Castellenta or Hank Azaria.  They do the most characters, so . . . .

Which show do you prefer? 1, 2, or 5?
Number one.  Pushing Daisies is my favorite TV show of all time.  ALL TIME.

Which show have you seen more episodes of; 1 or 3?
Three, just because there are more episodes altogether.  But I've watched the episodes in one a lot more.

If you could be anyone from 4, who would you be?
Lisa Simpson.

Give a random quote from 1.
"Well just because it was ajar doesn’t mean it wasn’t a door before it was a jar which would indicate to most people to a-knock before a-entering."

Would a 3/4 crossover work?
Probably not.  Although they're both animated, their universes are so radically different.  I'm sure four would parody three at some point or another, however.

Pair two characters in 1 that would make an unlikely, but strangely okay couple.
No, because it wouldn't work at all.  In its brief run, Fuller paired up a whole lot of characters, even to the point of making them all awkward and ponderous, so no.  Or just Olive Snook with any of the guys other than Ned.

Has 5 inspired you in any way?
To smoke more. 

Overall, which show has a better cast? 3 or 5?
Probably five, just because Mad Men is live action and everyone is seriously seriously invested, and in Avatar, they were invested in different ways.

Which has better theme music, 2 or 4?
Four, obviously.  The Simpsons theme is a classic.

21 September 2009

Best of the NBAs

No, not that silly basketball stuff, but the National Book Awards. In a similar vein to what the Booker did awhile back (of which Midnight's Children was the winner -- twice), the National Book Award Foundation are asking what you think is the best book with the NBA.

So go here:

Look through the five nominees. And pick one.

I suggest Gravity's Rainbow. If you haven't read any of them, just pick Gravity's Rainbow. It's the best of the bunch. Easily. There's more going on in it than any short story collection. I mean, within the first hundred pages, there's a mad scientist who gets his foot caught in a toilet while chasing a dog through London ruins. The first hundred pages. There's also sex slaves, giant octopi, monstrous aenids, dream-jumping, sympathetic lightbulbs, and a multi-volume study of King Kong. How does that not warrant attention?

Besides, at the time of this posting, Flannery O'Conner's story collection is leading the races and come on. Flannery O'Conner? Even over John Cheever? Or William Faulkner? Not that I've read a whole lot of her, but really she just seems so . . . determined to be literary and depressing and dark and is that what American letters is really about?

Vote Pynchon!

19 September 2009

John Krasinski Made a Movie

Not only did John Krasinksi make a movie, but he also took the premise from a ridicuously difficult source material. Right now in select theaters, you can see Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, the film adaptation of the David Foster Wallace story collection. Signed off with Wallace's approval (and even apparently graceful acknowledgment that Krasinski was so able to tie the different stories together), it looks as bleak, dark, depressing, and all around hilarious as the short story collection, which you haven't read, it's worth trying. Like most story collections, not all the pieces are spectacular and you do get some clunkers, but hardly any of that comes from the hideous men segments (though "Octet" is still hauntingly amazing and achingly discomforting). Is it a good way to indoctrinate yourself to Wallace's work? Sure, why not? It was the first David Foster Wallace book that I ever read, though that's not to say you cannot be ambitious and just go for Infinite Jest or anything.

From interviews I've seen with Krasinski, he seems like a genuinley nice, warm-hearted guy, not to mention remarkably intelligent. Which makes you wonder why he did something like Liscence to Wed, unless he was liscenced for a paycheck, boo-yah. I know he's a great admirer of Wallace's work, which all right is not an ultimate qualification for intelligence, but . . . . Anyway, you can kinda tell that he's put his all into the production of this thing and it does indeed look captivating.

Here are some Hulu videos regarding the film:

I'm not entirely sure how it was recieved at Sundance, but I think it was taken fairly well and hey, why not bring it to more attention? Another interesting note: apparently after the film has had it's small theatrical run, Hulu will be streaming it on their Web site for some time. So it sounds like it might get a bigger audience.

Oh and check this out. You can read one of the brief interviews (which isn't actually so brief and you better get comfortable because this is probably the most compelling of them, the most involved, hideous, and heartbreaking, the closer of the collection [almost] and winner of a prize in fact) over here at The Paris Review. Or buy the book.

P.S. In the behind the scenes video above, what did you think of Christopher Meloni name dropping Mamet and Neil LeButte in his interview (for the Interviews; how postmodern)? Was it honest and that was where his mind went, or could it have been more of a "I know you see me as the muscle on Law & Order and one of the prisoners in Oz, but I'm smart, too, see? See?"

16 September 2009

A Book Review

All right, so we're all well aware now that the new Dan Brown book was released like yesterday. I was at the bookstore earlier and there were seriously enough copies of that book that it was able to support a table, filled with more Dan Brown-ish type stuff. The first print run is something like five million copies and the publishing industry is putting a lot of faith and hope into this, as if Dan Brown can be the savior of the book business, which is unlikely and silly and sad. But I'm willing to bet that the book itself is just a reiteration of that last, big famous one, which, okay, was kind of fun when reading it but afterward was like, "That was the dumbest thing I've ever experienced!"

Still, there are plenty o people out there on the ball and the one-star Amazon reviews are cropping up. Normally one-star reviews on Amazon are silly, whining people who either didn't get the book and didn't want to get it, are simply out to troll and declare that they are like the little boy who revealed the emperor's new clothes (such a worthless piece of criticism and a major indicator that they have no idea what they're talking about), want to make a scene, or just bring attention to themselves -- a lot of these contribute to being one in the same thing, but that's irrelevant. Occasionally you get some honest criticsm, some carefully thought out and well-stated observations about why a work didn't work with a person, but that's about the same as finding someone who Twitters using correct grammar, or one of the few people now online or in general who knows that the word "all right" is never a singular word (i.e. 'alright' [sic]), but I stumbled upon this one for The Lost Symbol -- whose original title was The Solomon Key, which I think is a lot better -- that I thought I'd like to share with you. It's a blast. And see if you can crack it's own little code!

Three years ago, Dan Brown and top executives in Hollywood and the
publishing world assembled Thomas Harris, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Paulo
Coelho, Jimmy Wales, Abir Taha, and Rhonda Byrne in one room and said:

"Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight you are being tasked with creating a novel of epic proportions - one that will keep multitudes of airline travelers
mildly entertained for a few hours while simultaneously insulting the intelligence of anyone who possesses anything higher than a Bachelor's Degree in Communications. Gripping intrigue; explosive revelations; multi-dimensional, original and sympathetic characters; realistic, cutting-edge technology; finely crafted and astonishing plot twists; meticulously researched detail - this book will have none of these! Instead, randomly tear some pages out of your own manuscripts, staple them together and have the product on my desk by Tuesday night; we need at least a week to whittle down your blathering drivel into a 120 minute screenplay.

"I'll be on the phone with Hanks' agent negotiating a deal where we send him a blank check, and he reciprocates his end of the contract by laconically intoning his dialogue while stumbling about in a tweed jacket, so just slide whatever you come up with under my door. Remember, it's got to be at least 450 pages - if it doesn't snap the strap of a Timbuk2 messenger bag, it's not literature!

"Someone needs to throw in at least three dozen references to "things people do on the internet" too, please. You know, just try to work in the words 'iPhone,' 'Twitter,' BlackBerry,' and 'Google' every ten pages, that way readers will know it's a taut techno-thriller. And set it in Washington DC. Yeah, like National Treasure 2. People liked that, didn't they? Jimmy, have your boys just print out everything they have on the Freemasons, George Washington and Isaac Newton. Yeah, I know we used him before; we honestly don't know any other scientists. What do you mean your editors don't actually fact-check their information? So it's all just a hodgepodge of hearsay and conjecture? Actually, that's perfect.

"So, yeah, we have to have a love interest, too. And by love interest I mean "woman with whom the protagonist has no chemistry whatsoever." I don't know, a beautiful, wealthy, impossibly intelligent woman who not only is involved in ground-breaking research in a scientific field that doesn't technically exist (but is going to change Everything Forever!) but also somehow gains the ability to make incredible leaps in logic minutes before our protagonist, thereby completely undermining the purpose of his entire character. Which reminds me - we're going to need a villain, too. Has there ever been a 6' tall, rich, muscular, bald, psychotic antagonist with giant tattoos who kidnaps his victims for the purposes of his own "transformation"? What's that, Tom, you don't think so? Good - run with that. Throw in a plot twist about him too. Something that's never been done before. And how about some minor characters as well - an impeccably dressed black man who has keys that open every single door
in Washington, an old blind priest who speaks solely in riddles, and oh, what the hell, a deformed, female chain-smoking Japanese midget with a gravelly voice. Yup, all in the same book.

"Um, ok folks, I think we're done here - Oh, right, thanks Rhonda, I almost forgot - the ending! People have been waiting years for Dan's newest, colossal secret! One that will be sure to rock the very foundations of every society on our planet, destroy centuries-old beliefs and shatter ideologies into powdered glass! Here it is - get ready - The Bible. Reading the Bible will teach you things. Things that every single human being alive already knows, but they don't know they know. But once these things are pointed out, people are going to feel incredibly stupid that they didn't see them before. But they're also going feel uplifted because they now know that they're one with God. Or they're the same as God. Or they made up God. Or they're made of God. It doesn't matter. Just mention "God" and "hope" and people will get all choked up. Abir, you have some experience here - just make it sound spiritual, inspiring, and wishy-washy all at the same time.

"Can you also make sure to bury this Bible in some well-known, but highly implausible location that certainly won't be figured out in the first 20 pages by anyone more observant than a small, retarded child? I don't know, Dean, somewhere in Washington - but it's gotta have a pyramid on top. Yeah, a pyramid, like at the Louvre. Dan likes pyramids, ok? Are there any places like that in Washington? Anything vaguely pyramid-shaped? Just Google it, you'll find something. And make sure a shadowy government agency first tries to stop our protagonist, then ends up helping him using sophisticated technology that couldn't possibly do the things the book says it can do. Just make something up - like time traveling thermal cameras or
something. Or how about that liquid breathing fluid stuff from The Abyss? That's got blockbuster written all over it. No, Michael, we're not actually going to mention The Abyss in the book - that would be utterly ridiculous.

"Koontz? You had another question? Yes, of course - I was just getting to that. Every single chapter should end in a mini-cliffhanger that doesn't actually advance the plot, but instead leaves the readers completely unsatisfied, forcing them to stay awake for another two hours in order to reveal some insignificant and unlikely plot point. Typically, each chapter should end with one character literally pointing out something to another character, but never telling the audience what it is they are pointing at until the reader has consumed at least 30 more pages. Needless to say, the thing they are pointing at should leave both characters either "shocked," "incredulous," or "amazed."

"Everyone knows what to do? Great. All right guys, let's get cracking. Paulo, if you could stay behind for a minute; we found 87 more languages to translate your repetitive, mindless pedantry into. The rest of you, thanks for coming, please pick up your cartons of money on the way out..." Done. Congratulations; you've just read The Lost Symbol. I just saved you $17.00 and six hours. No need to thank me. And if you're still interested in ciphers, riddles and secret messages, I've embedded my own within this review - a diabolical code that I spent as much time crafting as Brown did on this steaming pile of pulp.

--Valannin "Pantheon Outcast"

01 September 2009

These Are Pretty Cool...

Just watch. Hardly any commentary necessary.