Thursday, November 30, 2006

when you let your subconscious off the leash

Whenever I see something written by Daphne Merkin, I cringe a little. A few years ago, she was teaching a course on essay writing at the 92nd St Y. I knew of her work, but clearly, not that well. To apply for the course, I unknowingly submitted an essay I had written that was on the very same subject as one of her most famous essays. Needless to say, I wasn't accepted. Either she thought I had pulled some virtuoso kiss-ass move by writing an homage to her brilliance (yuck) or she thought I hadn't bothered to do half of the homework I should have (the truth). She was right to reject me. This reminiscence has been brought to you by her recent profile of Tom Stoppard.

Stoppard leans over again a minute or so later and whispers, “I love scrims.” He is referring to the sheer cotton or linen hangings that are used as opaque backdrops or semitransparent curtains. This strikes me as a comment straight out of Wilde, much like his character Guildenstern’s line “Give us this day our daily mask,” suggesting a preference for the veiled over the overt, for artifice over reality. Stoppard says it with a measure of catch-me-if-you-can irony. Do not come any closer. Full stop. Trespassers will be made to feel foolish, or worse yet, presumptuous. Full stop. Or maybe I read all this sub-rosa meaning into what is in the end is just a clever comment only after the fact, once I have met with the playwright several more times and still find myself scrambling for clues to the man behind the poise.

Around an hour into the rehearsal, Stoppard and I repair to a small table in the corner of the theater lobby for conversation and a much needed smoking break for him. Stoppard, who is 69, is frequently photographed with a cigarette hanging off the end of his lower lip, like an Aging but Perpetually Angry Young Man, although he was hardly ever that — not even before “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” brought him international prominence nearly 40 years ago. “Very seldom has a play by a new dramatist been hailed with such rapturous unanimity,” Kenneth Tynan observed in his 1977 profile of Stoppard in The New Yorker. Right from the start, while he was still working as an underpaid journalist and writing his one and only novel, “Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon” (which was published to little stir in 1966, a year before the triumph of “Rosencrantz”), Stoppard appears to have had the habits of a squire rather than those of a subversive. According to his long-time agent, Kenneth Ewing, his client was always inclined to luxury. “When I first met Tom,” Ewing is quoted in Tynan’s profile, “he had just given up his regular work as a journalist in Bristol, and he was broke. But I noticed that even then he always traveled by taxi, never by bus. It was as if he knew that his time would come.”

I had the exact same thought

...if this is the future of hair, we all best sell our shares in VO5 and get ready to style our hair with those little blow torches they sell for creme brulee.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

boy, I'd love to lie in the street nearly dead with that guy

Just when you think the day is going to be as bad as it seems, you find your two favorite men in conversation. Jon Stewart interviews Tom Waits. I can't imagine how many times I'm going to watch this video. I only wish it was ten times as long. Or taking place in my apartment over a long weekend.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

save us from relevance

At TEV, Mark Sarvas interviews Jonathan Lethem about Daniel Fuchs. (There's a fun game there - substituting randomly generated names in place of these three. You could use the Wikipedia random article search. Stewie Griffin interviews Thomas Edison about Catherine the Great. Aleister Crowley interviews Dolly Parton about Vladimir Putin. Anyway...)

Daniel Fuchs is most well-known to me for his early portrait of hipsterville, Summer in Williamsburg, which is included in this recent collection of Fuch's novels with an introduction by Lethem. Like many writers from the '30s, he also has Hollywood Stories.

TEV: Fuchs headed to Hollywood but unlike Fitzgerald and Faulkner (with whom he collaborated), he neither imploded nor became embittered. Rather, he seemed to thrive in the vanilla sunshine and wrote without disdain about being a writer for the studios. (I love his "A Hollywood Diary" from last year's collection The Golden West; it's a wonderful bit of freeze-frame of a bygone era when screenwriters were contract workers.) Do you think his unwillingness to at least bite the hand that fed him contributed in any way to his marginalization by East Coast Literary Types?

JL: Yes, he's refreshingly clear-eyed and good-humored about the advantages and disadvantages of writing for the movies in the great era of the studio system, and provides a much less hysterical window into the fate of a studio writer than the pervasive Barton Fink images suggests. And I don't doubt (as a writer who's flitted from West Coast to East in my own subject matter, and is now about to flit back again) that there can be a self-reinforcing fascination in New York intellectual circles with local topics -- a leaning that may sometimes overrate certain dullish books that happen to be P.C. (provincially consonant) and either overlooks or patronizes books from elsewhere -- and which, even more specifically, might fail to disguise disappointment when one of its 'own' violates Eastcentricity (I remember some memoirist of NY in the '50's, though I can't remember whom, saying that a certain segment of the New York scene had never forgiven Bellow for fleeing to Chicago). But then again, how can we blame the marginalization of Fuchs-as-novelist on anyone but himself? I mean, given that he A: basically quit, and B: persistently, for decades, whenever anyone asked, downgraded his own accomplishment, claimed he'd used up what little he had to say and hence was no particular loss to the reader?

turnabout is fair play?

The Rake breaks down a little inconsistency in Dave Eggers's opinion of Infiinite Jest.

The book is approachable, yes, because it doesn’t include complex scientific or historical content, nor does it require any particular expertise or erudition. As verbose as it is, and as long as it is, it never wants to punish you for some knowledge you lack, nor does it want to send you to the dictionary every few pages. (2006)


Aside from being incredibly verbose, Wallace has an exhausting penchant for jargon, nicknames and obscure references, particularly about things highly technical, medical or drug-related. (1996)

And there's so much more...

Monday, November 27, 2006

signs of passion appear like rashes

As the Edward Hopper exhibit closes at the Whitney, Donald Kuspit asks if the artist was a closet Cubist.

Hopper is an ironical intimatist, perhaps most obviously in his interiors. They are as geometrically barren and alienating as his exteriors. Intimacy is impossible in them, only loneliness, as the figures who pass through them -- often leaving their luggage unpacked -- suggest. The interiors convey the false intimacy of mass culture. It involves the need for the organically exciting and enlivening -- and the socially perverse transformation of it into boring lifeless kitsch almost as soon as it is experienced. This expressive reduction is evident in the fake ornament and homogenizing color that routinely adorn Hopper’s buildings and rooms. They are deceptive tokens of superficial difference on indifferent facades. There is no escape from life-draining anonymity and banality in Hopper’s world. There is only false uniqueness hiding radical sameness.

Friday, November 24, 2006

mix post: the mix post is not dead edition

After a crazy long hibernation, the mix post returns. Since the last outing marked the beginning of the year, it's only fitting this should mark the end. As much as I rankle at premature wrap-ups, I doubt I'll get around to another mix post before 2007, so hear ye, hear ye. These are a few of my favorite songs of the year. Released in 2006? Some. I don't know. It doesn't matter. This is about me.

Blue Veins - The Raconteurs @ KCRW & YouTube
I bought this album on a lark, and damn, if I'm not wearing it out already. This song is one of my favorites among many.

Could We - Cat Power @ rbally
The selection of this song is fairly random, because it's really the entire album that I love. My tickets to the Orpheum show tomorrow night glow with promise.

Diablo Rojo - Rodrigo y Gabriela @ MySpace & YouTube
If you had told me that I would have a thing this year for thrash metal-influenced flamenco guitar, I would have thought you were nuts. I would have been wrong.

Dimension - Wolfmother @ Veritas Lux Mea
This fills a deep arena rock need in me for which I will not be ashamed.

I Don't Feel Like Dancin' - Scissor Sisters @ Lost in Your Inbox & YouTube
Oh, but I do.

I'll Sing a Love Song to You - Candi Staton @ ortf
This is only one great song from the best contemporary soul album out there.

I Wish I Had an Evil Twin - Magnetic Fields @ Heartache with Hard Work
Stephen Merritt has certain moments of sheer genius and this is one of them.

Love Is Stronger Than Death - Angela McCluskey
You'll have to buy the album to hear her cover of this The The song, but you can hear the original here.

Sap - Freakwater
Sadly, there are no songs readily available from the latest album, including this song that breaks my heart every time, but WFMU does have this excellent cover of "War Pigs" instead.

Such a Lovely Thing - DeVotchka @ MySpace
The tuba, the fiddle, the slurred gypsy inflection...I can't get enough.

Think About the Good Times - Baby Washington @ WFMU's Beware of the Blog
A song has never been so happy and so sad at the same time.

Walking with a Ghost - The White Stripes @ La Blogotheque
This Tegan & Sara cover isn't necessarily special, but it gets to me.

Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio @ Both Sides of the Mouth & YouTube
I can tell if this song is playing within a one mile radius by the way my head and hips are moving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

happy thanksgiving, kids

Turkeys Try to Catch Train Out of NJ:

A spokesman for the NJ Transit said train officials reported a dozen or so wild turkeys waiting on a station platform in Ramsey, about 20 miles northwest of New York City, on Wednesday afternoon. The line travels to Suffern, N.Y.

''For a moment, it looked like the turkeys were waiting for the next outbound train,'' said Dan Stessel, a spokesman for NJ Transit. ''Clearly, they're trying to catch a train and escape their fate.''

Transit workers followed the bird's movements on surveillance cameras. ''I have no idea how they got there,'' Stessel said.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

robert altman (1925-2006)

According to NPR, Robert Altman has died in Los Angeles.

Later tributes include The New York Times times two, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times, among many others.

findings: children do not like this man

Thanks to Lindsayism for the Scared of Santa Gallery...

Monday, November 20, 2006

I wanted these 'see librarian' books and I wanted them now

John Waters relates how Tennessee Williams saved his life:

Yes, Tennessee Williams was my childhood friend. I yearned for a bad influence and boy, was Tennessee one in the best sense of the word: joyous, alarming, sexually confusing and dangerously funny. I didn’t quite “get” “Desire and the Black Masseur” when I read it in “One Arm,” but I hoped I would one day. The thing I did know after finishing this book was that I didn’t have to listen to the lies the teachers told us about society’s rules. I didn’t have to worry about fitting in with a crowd I didn’t want to hang out with in the first place. No, there was another world that Tennessee Williams knew about, a universe filled with special people who didn’t want to be a part of this dreary conformist life that I was told I had to join.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

sunday short stack

"Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us examine how happy those are who already possess it." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Friday, November 17, 2006

I thought I heard the shuffle of angels' feet

This video for Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down" is chock full o' cool. Stereogum has the full list.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

animal magnetism

"The Life and Times of LaFontaine the Mesmerizer" from nthposition:

It's 1874, and he is having one of his usual triumphs. Huge and perfect, a demigod with a mountain of shining black curls on his head, he stands on the stage of the freshly built Paris Opera House.

The place is a neo-baroque marvel, with marble statues, jewel-studded arches, crystal chandeliers and gold-leafed pillars gleaming everywhere. The vast dome overhead features a fresco of God in his Heaven, being serenaded by hundreds of plump, rosy angels.

Several princes are in the audience, along with marquises, duchesses and various other continental glitterati of the time, each dressed more beautifully than the next. It's a capacity crowd, and they're all on their feet, loudly expressing their amazement, and their love, for Monsieur LaFontaine, the greatest of all mesmerizers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

to any female of respectability

These two Believer pieces have been up for a little while, but they're worth the link. Paul Collins, author of The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine, gives credit for the creation of modern crime to a nineteenth-century journalist.

Curtis was the original shoe-leather reporter, with an encyclopedic intimacy with the streets of London and its denizens that came from an absolute horror of any form of locomotion save walking; he utterly refused to use a horse or coach. Once up from his armchair in his rumpled clothes, he invariably set out from his apartment to walk upward of eight miles in the predawn hours, starting out near his house at Farringdon Market, and making a peculiarly coiled loop—often retracing his steps several times over—through the vegetable sellers at Covent Garden Market, down through Hungerford Market, and milling with the famously foul-mouthed fishmongers at Billingsgate as they laid out Thames oysters, Scottish salmon, and Norwegian lobsters upon the stroke of their market’s 5 a.m. opening.

By the time he reached the opening of the Old Bailey, the sun was up and he was ready to write. The other reporters were only just now rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and stumbling in; none could hope to compete with Curtis, and they didn’t really try. Curtis alone recorded every trial, regardless of whether it had any news interest, quite simply because he liked to keep his own record of the court. Such a monumental task would have crippled the hand of any other journalist. But Curtis was known to have a fearsome ability at shorthand—he was so fast, in fact, that he published his own guide, titled Shorthand Made Shorter.

Curtis covered the conviction of a brutal killer, whose trial was seemingly as gruesome as his crime. The victim was a woman responding to an ad for matrimony, and The Believer also supplies samples of these responses.


On taking up the paper this morning, your advertisement was the first thing that met my eye, and in seeing the word ‘Matrimony,’ I laughing said, a gentleman wants a wife, but I suppose he is in still greater want of money, otherwise he wishes to make himself warm this cold weather, by laughing at the credulity of the female sex… Having said all I have to say, I fetched a deep sigh, conscious, I suppose, of my own defects, and again looked at the paper without intending to do it. I read your advertisement through, and was not a little surprised upon finishing it; for, although there may not be one word of truth in it, it certainly wears the semblance of sincerity…. I repeat, if your tale is true, upon my word I pity you: if it is a fiction, I hope my sex may be revenged by your being obliged, at some future period, to pass a month, one month, in a house of discord….

I beg to answer your advertisement of last Sunday, but really think it nothing but a frolic; I know a charming young woman of no property, her friends highly respectable, nineteen years of age, exceedingly agreeable person, has had the charge of her parent’s house these three years, and brought up by a truly amiable and virtuous mother. I can with great truth say the young lady is not aware of my answering your advertisement. If you think proper, you may address a line to Mrs. ‒—. I hope you will act honorably with regard to the name, as the writer is a married woman. A friend will put this in the twopenny post.

Your obedient servant,


[P.S.] The young lady has never been attached to anyone, nor has she ever left her friends.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

listen, pussycat, smile a bit

Salon analyzes "What's real in Borat?" (Like this is news to anyone, but I saw the film and it is outrageous and painfully funny. Sacha Baron Cohen is dangerously insane and, to be frank, hot.) This MetaFilter thread about the poor humiliated frat boys is also entertaining: "Your friend can reasonably console himself that people who pay to see this movie, almost by self-selection and operation of simple destiny, will not likely be in a position to detrimentally affect his life in any substantial way." Oh, yes, I am sure that is true - NOT!

Monday, November 13, 2006

do we, vampire-like, feed on each other?

The Independent looks at literary partnerships - who's musing who?

But it is those 20th-century heterosexual relationships, charged by sexual passion and either flittering out when that passion dies, or, in some cases, imploding with horrific consequences, that are the most complex, the most teasing, and ultimately the ones that intrigue us most. Above and beyond their work, West, Mansfield, Rhys, Beauvoir, Gellhorn, Plath and Smart are famous for being essentially "victims of love". At least four of them were deserted by their lovers or husbands (Mansfield escaped this fate by dying young and Beauvoir by participating in sexual games that she seems to have had little real interest in); West threatened suicide when Wells left her shortly after the beginning of their liaison, and even wrote a short story, "At Valladolid" about it; while Madox Ford's rejection of Jean Rhys after 18 months, according to one biographer, drove her further towards alcoholism. Plath, who might be called the poster girl for this group, and for abandoned women everywhere, did of course actually kill herself.

And yet. While the female half of the literary partnership tended to be less famous at the outset than her male counterpart - Barker was a flamboyant and hugely promising published poet when Smart began her pursuit, Hughes had a considerable reputation at Cambridge, and Wells was fast approaching the peak of his fame, as was Madox Ford - it is that female half who has posthumously either equalled or even exceeded her partner's reputation. Quite a remarkable feat for these poor, lonely, abandoned "victims".


Sunday, November 12, 2006

sunday short stack

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time." - Steven Wright


Saturday, November 11, 2006

do not fall in love

R Train Wisdom via Wooster Collective

Friday, November 10, 2006

das parfum

I can't decide whether this preview for Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Patrick Suskind's novel makes it look great or awful. It might be fine without the voiceover. (The German trailer is a little better - NSFW.)


Thursday, November 09, 2006

how did the feeling feel to you

One other exciting thing happened on Tuesday - the long-awaited remastered release of Karen Dalton's second album, In My Own Time. Part of the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s, Karen Dalton seems to have inspired many artists and created few songs. She's pictured above with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan, who cites her as one of his influences. She's often compared to contemporaries Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs and referenced in discussions of Josephine Foster and Joanna Newsom. Pitchfork claims that she hated the most frequent comparison to Billie Holliday. She battled the usual demons before her death in 1993.

I received Dalton's first release - It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best - as a gift and after growing accustomed to her unusual voice, I have almost worn it out through constant rotation. The album is worth buying for the liner notes alone that tell of a single mother who hated performing but found music to be the only way she could relate to people. Reed Fischer of Paper Thin Walls writes:

Folk luminary Bert Jansch and newbies White Magic have both released versions of "Katie Cruel" this year, and each is greatly indebted to Karen Dalton’s 1971 interpretation of the traditional tune. Dalton, also known as Sweet Mother KD, unleashes each note with a weathered bray that sounds less jarring to Banhart-ized ears than it did when she was kicking around New York in the ’60s with Fred Neil and Bob Dylan. Like Billie Holiday’s thick, dirty-on-purpose tones even further unhinged, Dalton’s alto is rife with bends and rasps that turn in on themselves. “When first I came to town/They bought me drinks aplenty/Now they’ve changed their tune/Hand me the bottles empty,” she sings as a woman in her 30s. But vocally, Dalton doubles her age and plants herself in a ramshackle hut with a lifetime of regret. Her masterful long-neck banjo picking and the shrill violin in the background roll together like dust on the road to a foreign, timeless place. Much like how Nick Drake predicted his posthumous notoriety on “Fruit Tree,” Dalton makes “Katie Cruel” about her own doomed career by the final stanza: “If I was where I would be/Then I’d be where I am not/Here I am where I must be/Where I would be I cannot.” In My Own Time was Dalton’s second and final album, and her hard life ended in 1993.

You can stream "Katie Cruel" here. There are some other sound files at Stefan Wirz's fan site, where I found the photo above, and at NPR. She even has a decent MySpace page. At the Seattle Weekly, Brian J. Barr asks, "Why wasn't she huge?"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

a sight for sore eyes

OK, Dems, don't screw it up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

friendly reminder

"The reason your side doesn't like my side is because you think we think you're stupid. The reason my side doesn't like your side is that we think you're stupid." - Studio 60

Don't be stupid. Vote today.

Monday, November 06, 2006

meditation and bedticks

Over at Reading California Fiction, Don Napoli reviews one of the books from the escapegrace dissertation: Don Ryan's Angel's Flight. Ryan's failings raise his ire:

It's not unusual for me to wish that an author had ended a book another way. But I believe that only in Angel's Flight did I want the author to just stop writing at a certain point. If you had just quit here (p. 251) or perhaps even here (p. 237), I want to tell Don Ryan, you would have produced a major piece of American fiction. What was the problem? Didn't you understand what this book is about? Did you think you were being paid by the word? Oh well, I suppose getting angry won't help.

You can read more from the review here. (Don eventually does recommend the book.) I also found Angel's Flight pretty limited, but it did serve its purpose for me, providing one of the earliest caricatures of Aimee Semple McPherson. Here's my take:

In his 1927 novel Angel’s Flight, possibly written before [McPherson's] kidnapping incident, Don Ryan opens his story in a mission “that provided soup in the name of Jesus,” conducting outreach in the tradition of the Angelus Temple (13). According to Daniel Mark Epstein’s biography Sister Aimee, when an earthquake devastated Santa Barbara in June 1925, McPherson’s fleet was first to arrive on the scene with supplies, long before the Red Cross even met to discuss aid strategies. In Ryan’s novel, the down and out of downtown L.A. appreciate the handouts but not the message: “A sneer twists [a vagrant’s] lips over widely spaced teeth as he listens to the promises which the mission folk hold forth. Thwarted by circumstance, hunted by oppression, dogged by the law, he has listened in jail and bull-pen and flop-house to the promise of eternal life. His brain, which is clear, has analyzed the elements of religion and discarded the promise” (15).

Not all Los Angeles residents at the time felt that religion was the answer to all their problems, and Ryan’s protagonist is one such cynic. He refers to the mission band as “those miserable beings who find an antidote for their inferiority by ministering to those more miserable even than themselves” (18).
Will Pence, former newspaper reporter, has hit the skids when the novel opens and finds himself briefly involved in a life of crime. Like much of the plot of Angel’s Flight, his narrow escape and return to respectability are never fully explained or questioned. Pence gets work writing features for a small newspaper, chronicling “the greatest sideshow on earth” (44):

Enriched by post-war food prices, the American peasantry with money to spend flocking to Los Angeles as to a country fair. Hither likewise came the variegated hordes to prey upon them….Swamis stalked the streets wrapped in meditation and bedticks. Famous bunco men honored the city with permanent residence. Cults and creeds that had lain dormant since the time of Pythagoras springing to life to bloom exotically in semi-tropic air. An alchemist hung out his sign on Sunset Boulevard, advertising to perform physical and spiritual transmutation. Holy men from the hills, barefooted, hairy, bearded in simulation of the Nazarene, selling postcards on the corners (62).

One of the characters created by Ryan to fall prey to the variegated hordes is Galens, an unemployed victim of age discrimination who attends motivational speaker Elsie Lincoln Benedict’s course of lectures on “Personality – the Key to Success” in an attempt to give himself an edge in the marketplace. Ryan’s description of the lecture course and of Elsie Lincoln Benedict sounds strikingly similar to the self-improvement allure of Aimee Semple McPherson, albeit on a more secular and fiscal plane. Pence attends a meeting and sees “row upon row of sallow, hopeful, middle-aged faces turned up in pathetic expectancy towards an illuminated rostrum on which a dazzling woman in a scarlet evening gown was telling them how they could become young again….Their weary, disappointed faces turned up towards this high priestess of their cult” (81-2). Pence recalls Mencken’s description of the boobus Americanus, a sitting duck for Inspiration and Optimism. Elsie Benedict shills her course of lessons (“how to stay young above the neck”) and guarantees that all takers will have their “one big question” answered, evoking images of Sister Aimee in her private chambers after a sermon, meeting for hours on end with parishioners who would wait in long lines for one answer from the evangelist.

Pence makes the acquaintance of Galens at Benedict’s lecture and soon thereafter, perhaps inspired by a renewed feeling of optimism thanks to Elsie Benedict, Galens turns up at Pence’s office, looking to sell him some life insurance. Pence’s time in the Army has provided for his life insurance needs, and when Galens tries to sell him on more coverage, Pence argues that he’d prefer a policy with no suicide clause. Despite Galens’s protestations that if Pence waited a year to take his life, he’d be covered under the policy he was selling, Pence is not interested. He finally uses Elsie Benedict to get rid of the ineffectual salesman: “Look at my head, Galens. Remember what Elsie told you. Size me up phrenologically. Get my number” (89). Galens leaves empty-handed. Under the pressures of a few more failures, his sick wife, and his adulterous longings, Galens eventually takes his own life instead. Pence quits his position as a reporter when the paper is sold to Hearst, gets a job as an actor in a film production, and then is hired to write titles for the film in New York, where he is reunited with the illegitimate daughter he didn’t know existed.

Elsie Benedict is possibly the most cynical version of the Aimee Semple McPherson type: there is nothing humanistic, spiritual, or powerful about her beyond the fact she has figured out a way to play on the anxieties of the aging. Ryan frames his description of Benedict in ways that call to mind something deeper than vanity and greed – the faces turned up toward the high priestess – but in the end, youth is something that cannot be granted, even by the most prolific twentieth-century healers. Arthritis? Tumors? Blindness? Aimee Semple McPherson was believed to have cured all of these ailments. Aging? Not even in Hollywood.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

sunday short stack

"There's something so showy about desperation; it takes hard wits to see it's a grandiose form of funk." - Elizabeth Bowen


Friday, November 03, 2006

they do things differently in bourgeois bohemia

They could film an infomercial for knives starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench and I'd rush out to see it, so it's even better that they're in the adaptation of a book I enjoyed.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

william styron (1925-2006)

William Styron has died of pneumonia at 81.

Styron was a Virginia native, whose fascinations with race, class and personal guilt led to such tormented narratives as Lie Down in Darkness and The Confessions of Nat Turner, which won the Pulitzer Prize despite protests that the book was racist and inaccurate.

Among his other works were
Sophie's Choice, his award-winning novel about a Holocaust survivor from Poland, which was later turned into an acclaimed film starring an Oscar-winning Meryl Streep, and A Tidewater Morning, a collection of fiction pieces. He also published a book of essays, This Quiet Dust, and a bestselling memoir, Darkness Visible, in which he recalled nearly taking his own life.

A lifelong liberal, Styron was involved in many public causes, from supporting a Connecticut teacher suspended for refusing to say the oath of allegiance, to advocating human rights for Jews in the Soviet Union. In the 90s, he was one of a group of authors and historians who successfully opposed plans for a Disney theme park near the Manassas National Battlefield in northern Virginia.

Styron wrote: "A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it."

be careful where I find you

I've seen some Robert Wilson productions (The Black Rider, most recently), and even though poor Brad might be miffed about the unauthorized use of his mug, seeing him move in the unnaturally phlegmatic manner that characterizes Wilson's style of direction is fairly entertaining.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

endorsed by teller

That Houdini gets into so much trouble. Now he's been found to have spied for Scotland Yard.

The biography lays out a scenario where Houdini, using his career as cover, managed to travel the United States and the world while collecting information for law enforcement. The authors made the link after reviewing a journal belonging to William Melville, a British spy master who mentioned Houdini several times.

Melville, while at Scotland Yard in the early 20th century, helped launch Houdini's European career by allowing the performer to demonstrate his escape skills. Houdini, at a demonstration arranged by Melville, slipped free from a pair of Scotland Yard handcuffs as an audition for a London theater owner.

The book suggests that Melville's compliance was part of a quid pro quo in which Houdini worked as a spy. A similar situation occurred in Chicago, where Houdini's career took off after a publicity stunt aided by a local police lieutenant, the book said.

how many of me

This search engine purports to tell you how many people in the U.S. share your name. Supposedly, there are 26 more of me, but considering I've met 2 or 3 of those folks already, I would presume the number to be higher.