Friday, February 27, 2009

Huston Podcast

Ed Interviews Charlie Huston on the Bat Segundo Show

The Bat Segundo show has an interview with Charlie Huston, which can be listened here. If you'll recall I wrote about Huston's new novel, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, here.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Blurb

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball's second novel is really his first, written before Samedi the Deafness, but published a year later. I enjoyed Samedi and that's why I was willing to go where Ball takes readers in The Way Through Doors, because, as the New Yorker put it, "reality is generally given the heave-ho."

Why does The Way work in the end? It does because no matter how confusing it gets, there is a story that hooks you and by the end, Ball is successful in completing that story. Seems simple: a book with an ending. But it's not as easy a task when the stories told between this book's covers melt continuously into each other. That Ball manages to satisfy in the end is one other reason to read The Way Through Doors.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Interviews

Dan Simmons and Alan Moore

Dan Simmons talks about his new novel Drood and Alan Moore talks a little about Watchmen but more about comics.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sour Rushdie

Salman Rushdie Doesn't Like Slumdog Millionaire

From the Guardian:
You might think that a writer whose own characters have included telepaths and angels would not worry too much about a story's believability, but Salman Rushdie has taken serious issue with the credibility of this years Oscars sensation Slumdog Millionaire. As Oscar upon Oscar was piled upon the film on Sunday, Rushdie was pointedly not joining in the applause for author Vikas Swarup and director Danny Boyle. "The movie piles impossibility on impossibility," he said in a lecture at Emory University in Atlanta, raising questions over how the characters end up at the Taj Mahal, 1,000 miles from where they were in the previous scene, and how they manage to get their hands on a gun in India.
I thought Slumdog was a good movie but I'm not quite sure if it deserved an Oscar. But if not it, who? I hope in a decade people still remember the movie but I have my doubts.

Rushdie? Yeah...


The Maccabees

A Cool Splash Page

Listen and watch.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Book Blurb

Three Novels by Richard Yates

First thing that comes to mind: would I have read this if it were not for the movie Revolutionary Road? Perhaps, but I should give credit to the film adaptation of Richard Yates's fantastic novel: the movie put this book, which also collects The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, in my hands. I should add, however, that I haven't seen the movie and it's not on my immediate to-watch list.

It's always my preference to read the book before seeing the movie, and that's why I read Revolutionary Road. All three of the books collected in this Everyman's Edition are written in the style that makes you think 'They don't make them like these anymore.' The prose is direct, clean and precise. It's smooth to get down and enjoy. And while Yates's hasn't pushed me towards the theatre to see the only adaptation of his work, the familiar beats Mad Men makes fulfills my need to see Yates's world envisioned on the screen.

Can I be more clear? Richard Yates: recommended.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

The Trailer... Finally

There's a trailer now for Quentin Tarantino's next film, due out in August, and it looks like it will be another super-stylized violent film from the director. Can't say I'm not looking forward to Inglourious Basterds, especially after watching the trailer right here.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Blurb

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

Something that was evident while reading Charlie Huston's newest novel was how it initially resembled his first, Caught Stealing. There's Huston's use of dialogue, short descriptions, humour, crime and engaging first-person narrator. The main difference, after writing seven novels between his first and latest, is that Huston has refined his style. It's much stronger, as would be expected, and reads more original. The clunkiness of expository dialogue is gone along with the muddiness of action scenes.

The title of this novel includes the word "mystic" but every aspect is believable. You want to believe Web Goodhue is a real person in Los Angeles, and Huston never gives a reason not to. There's also an aspect to this noir story that pushes it beyond the mere surface of character relationships. And Huston pulls that off without appearing artificial too.

Is it really that great a compliment to say an author's ninth novel is better than his first? No, but it's Huston's ninth novel that makes me want to read the ones before it and his tenth.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Harper's Index

Is Now Searchable

Harper's has made its always entertaining Index searchable in celebration of the Index's 25th anniversary. Go here.

How great is this? Here are the results, for example, for hockey.



Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SNL Comics

Saturday Night Live Writers Write for Marvel

From Marvel's May 2009 solicitations:
Spider-Man: The Short Halloween
Pencils & Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE
Two stars of Saturday Night Live make their Marvel debut with an all-new story set right on the bustling, hot dog juice covered streets of New York City. Halloween is coming early this year as Spidey is knocked out during the Greenwich Village costume parade and an intoxicated reveler in a Spidey costume takes his place. Really, we don't want to say more than that. Trust us, with comic book legend Kevin Maguire (JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL) along for the ride, this'll be more exciting than putting a president on a comic book cover!
48 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$3.99

It'll probably get some decent coverage. Meaning; not just this blog.


Oscar Predictions

Who Will Win These Meaningless Awards

New York magazine has gone to Nate Silver, the brilliant 2008 Presidential Election predictor, to, what else, predict this year's Oscar winners. The winners:
  • Heath Ledger for Supporting Actor
  • Taraji P. Henson for Supporting Actress
  • Mickey Rourke for Best Actor
  • Kate Winslet for Best Actress
  • Danny Boyle for Best Director
  • Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture
I'm interested to see if Silver is right.


Black Comedy

Nighty Night and the Peep Show

If you enjoy black humour, then you should like Nighty Night and the Peep Show. That's something I heard about these two British dark comedies that premiered in 2004. After watching the first seasons of both shows, I did enjoy one, which was was the poorly named Peep Show; it's poorly named not because it doesn't fit the comedy, but that it's hard to discuss a show called the Peep Show without raising eyebrows.

So why does one work and the other does not? The Peep Show is not as dark as Nighty Night, so that may be one reason, but the more accurate reason is that the show's writers don't ask for the viewer to laugh at sociopathic behaviour. Nighty Night is not about humour so much as it's about framing despicable acts as humour. The marketers of Nighty Night compare it to Curb Your Enthusiasm,which is unfair to Larry David's show as it features no character I would consider sadistic.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Blurb

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies is the best novel I've read this year. Despite its length (the story comes in at 460+ pages; if you add the glossary at the end, it's 500+), I finished reading the book in a couple of days. So what does that tell you? It tells you that either a) I'm a fast reader or b) Ghosh's novel is one that's hard to put down. A is wrong and B is partly true.

Whenever you come to a novel that's part one of a trilogy, in this case the Ibis trilogy, you expect a certain amount of set-up. Ghosh doesn't skimp on set-up. The first two parts of the story, which total more than 300 pages, are what I'd consider set-up and it's in these first two parts where I feel Ghosh could lose a reader or two. 

There's also a learning curve associated with the slang Ghosh uses throughout the novel. Eventually you do learn - it doesn't take too long - and I didn't feel I needed to look at the glossary. There's implied meaning, like spending time in a country where you don't share the first language: eventually, you pick up the rhythm of the language, and the meaning of words illuminate themselves. 

And perhaps that's the best part of Ghosh's historical novel: it's successful in transporting the reader to Calcutta in the 1800s. Ghosh weaves in historical details or details that feel historically accurate in a way that is not distracting. At the same time, he doesn't pretend that there's some greater meaning to Sea of Poppies though there may be and the Booker nomination (didn't win and that doesn't matter) would suggest as much. No, Sea of Poppies is a historical melodrama that ensnares and charms you. It's a fantastic piece of writing that I'm happy has sequels forthcoming.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Huston Interview

Charlie Huston Getting Recognition

Bookslut has a look at Charlie Huston's star turn with the publication of his new novel, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. If I'm writing about it, it means that it's on my to-read list.

I started reading Huston's first novel, Caught Stealing, via the author's website, which has links to PDFs of his first three books. It's good but I'm only about 40 per cent through.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Green Day

Vague Details for the New Album

From Pitchfork:
Reprise will release 21st Century Breakdown, complete with fake-edgy Sixten-inspired cover art, in May. According to MTV, the band recorded the LP with Nevermind producer Butch Vig. And according to Rolling Stone, the album's 16 tracks will come divided into three "acts": Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades.

Entertainment Weekly reports that the song titles include "21st Century Breakdown", "Know Your Enemy", "Before the Lobotomy", "March of the Dogs", "Restless Heart Syndrome", and "21 Guns". Rolling Stone, MTV, and Entertainment Weekly have all heard a few songs. All of them seem to like it, and two of them mention the Who.

Obviously without hearing a note I can't say anything about the album. I hope it's good.


Book Blurb

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Last post I mentioned I was reading Josh Bazell's debut, Beat the Reaper, and that I'd try to write something about the novel when I finished it. By writing that sentence, you should infer that I'm finished.

Beat the Reaper is a quick 300-page read, which Bazell deserves credit for. He keeps the story moving with short scenes and strong dialogue, and does a solid job of recreating the atmosphere one would expect to find in a hospital. Before I started reading the novel, I read an Amazon review that compared Beat the Reaper to a mix between House and The Sopranos. I haven't watched enough episodes of House (though I should watch more) to know if that's a fair comparison, but I will say Beat the Reaper is much like a hospital drama with a fair amount of crime and action. It's nothing like The Sopranos, as that show had a greater depth and attempted to say something more about crime. I didn't find Bazell's novel to share that same pursuit. It's mostly entertainment, well-written and enjoyable.

Should someone pick up a copy of Beat the Reaper? It depends if they enjoy black humour, crime and a knowing, sometimes unlikeable, narrator. Some of the sex scenes seem implausible, and at times the action scenes are hard to follow. Overall, Bazell's debut is still worth reading if only to set up what I expect will be a much stronger sequel.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bazell Interview

Josh Bazell Talks About His Novel, Beat the Reaper

I'm about a third-of-the-way into Josh Bazell's first novel, Beat the Reaper, and it's been fun so far. This week New York magazine has an interview with Bazell here:

Where did you get the idea for the book?
I wanted to explore the extent to which somebody can change himself. And I felt I might have something to say about the Mafia that hadn’t been said before.

Like what?
I’ve read lots of Mafia memoirs, this sort of repulsive subgenre where people who’ve gone into witness protection write tell-alls in which they claim to be ashamed of their former lives yet can’t stop bragging about them. In books and on TV, the mob tends to be either a sort of omnipotent conspiracy or a bunch of lovable doofuses who do petty crime. I love The Godfather, but the idea that somebody like Don Corleone sits around granting favors is clearly inaccurate. The favor is that if you pay them 60 percent, they don’t break your legs.

I'll try to follow-up with a proper review when I'm finished. And by proper, I mean short and to the point.


Brothers Review

Comparing Brothers to The Bonfire of the Vanities

NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan reviewed Yu Hua's just-translated novel Brothers and compared it to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities:
Critics are already lauding Brothers by comparing it to Bonfire, but one is authentic Dickensian down and the other is serviceable fiberfill — and, in this instance, it's not the Chinese product that's the knockoff. Wolfe admirably aimed to be like Dickens, to write a huge social novel about New York City in the go-go 1980s and to make his points — as Dickens did — through comic hyperbole, repetition and cataloguing. All that was missing was the heart. (Did anyone really care about Wolfe's protagonist, Sherman McCoy?)
I haven't read Wolfe's novel, I plan to, but I know I'll read Hua's novel first.


Monday, February 09, 2009

A-Rod Admits

Another Great Baseball Player Juiced

This is weird: a baseball player who admits his steroid use. Not sure if I should praise Alex Rodriguez for admitting he used steroids when he played for Texas. He says he hasn't used since but who knows.

At least he didn't lie in the face of all-but-confirmed allegations.


Upcoming Mazzucchelli

No, Not Some Italian Dish

From today's Pub Weekly's reviews, a, um, review of David Mazzucchelli's long-awaited (I didn't know it was coming) graphic novel:
Asterios Polyp David Mazzucchelli. Pantheon, $29.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-3073-7732-6

For decades, Mazzucchelli has been a master without a masterpiece. Now he has one. His long-awaited graphic novel is a huge, knotty marvel, the comics equivalent of a Pynchon or Gaddis novel, and radically different from anything he's done before. Asterios Polyp, its arrogant, prickly protagonist, is an award-winning architect who's never built an actual building, and a pedant in the midst of a spiritual crisis. After the structure of his own life falls apart, he runs away to try to rebuild it into something new. There are fascinating digressions on aesthetic philosophy, as well as some very broad satire, but the core of the book is Mazzucchelli's odyssey of style—every major character in the book is associated with a specific drawing style and visual motifs, and the design, color scheme and formal techniques of every page change to reinforce whatever's happening in the story. Although Mazzucchelli stacks the deck—few characters besides Polyp and his inamorata, the impossibly good-hearted sculptor Hana, are more than caricatures—the book's bravado and mastery make it riveting even when it's frustrating, and provide a powerful example of how comics use visual information to illustrate complex, interconnected topics. Easily one of the best books of 2009 already. (June)

It got the star, by the way.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Jesse Ball

Interview and a Review

Jesse Ball's first published novel, Samedi the Deafness, was fantastic. In a few days, his second will be published, The Way Through Doors. Bookslut has a review of the new book and an interview with him, which I will excerpt below:
I have also read that you have a whole trove of books you've written over the years that are as yet unpublished, each kind of waiting their turn. How much would you say you write when you are in the mode of writing? How much time each year, on average? Obviously, these are relative numbers, but I am interested in the process of output and perhaps how many projects you immerse yourself in at a time, how they bleed a bit into one another, etc?

There are a number of volumes awaiting their turn. As the years have passed, I have become better at compressing the writing process into smaller and smaller portions of time. Plainface, a novel that will eventually come out, is composed of novellas that tell the continuing adventures of a boy named Plainface, and each of those novellas was written rapidly, some even in a single day. It all goes back to what I was saying about a pianistic performance. One attempts to maintain a thread through an atmosphere that one constructs around the thread even as one weaves the thread through it. The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, I wrote in one sitting. The same is true of Pieter Emily, another novella. I wrote a book of poems in December of 2007 called The Skin Feat. That's a part of an omnibus called The Village on Horseback which Milkweed will publish in 2011. That book of poems was written over the course of a couple weeks. In terms of all these works, quantity, though, is not my aim. I simply want to realize the thought as well as I can, and be surprised in the process. To be engaged in a life of making -- that's the pursuit.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl

The Biggest Surprise

I don't care about the NFL and I didn't watch a full game during this past season, but I did watch the dying minutes of last night's Super Bowl. Despite my expectations that the game between the Steelers and the Cardinals would be forgettable, the game became the second good Super Bowl in a row (I haven't forgotten about the NY Giants-New England Patriots match last season).

Here are the highlights. Enjoy.