Friday, July 24, 2009

Recommended Viewing:
Maurice Sendak on the WTWTA Film

Related: Assorted WTWTA links

Racist Accusations are Like Celebrity Deaths: They Tend to Occur in 3s

How's this for unfortunate kismet? Less than a week after we posted our long and spiraling screed about White readers' hesitancy to buy books outside their Caucasian comfort zone, Publishers Weekly is running a story about the controversial 'White face' cover art to Justine Larbalestier’s upcoming novel, Liar. The book, about a Black tomboy with short, “nappy” hair, has inexplicably (yeah, right) been given a cover featuring...a White girl! Making a bad situation worse, the book's publisher, Bloomsbury, has issued the following, ridiculous bit of PR spin: "I do think it’s going to raise awareness of race in teen literature to new levels. Clearly, our striving for ambiguity with this cover, and for it to be interpreted as a ‘lie’ itself didn’t work for everyone. But again, if this jacket proves a catalyst for a bigger discussion about how the industry is dealing with its books on race, that’s a very large good to come of this current whirlwind."
Uh, Bloomsbury? No. You effed up. Big time. Now's the time to bite the bullet, admit you messed up, and print new covers. You still have two months 'til the book hits shelves.

Oh, and the literary world's 3rd racist accusation/occurrence of the week? Boston's finest and their arrest of author and Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr. -- for 'breaking into' his own house!

Recommended Viewing:
Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland Trailer

Things That Make You Go, "Ew!"

Moriah Jovan's Concept for "The Perfect Bookstore."

A simplistic mix of 2001 minimalism and McDonald's showmanship, Moriah Jovan envisions a bookstore made up of nothing more than two Espresso book machines and a small wall featuring e-books. While this sterile, impersonal brand of instant gratification is already the norm in the sleek and sexy world of bus station vending machine banks, I'm not so sure John and Jane Q. Public are gonna be willing to use this as a book buying option more than, say, once. I mean, after the gimmicky thrill of getting a book made-to-order has worn off ( -- and seriously, don't you think that this thrill is gonna wear off approximately 5-10 minutes into the best case scenario 15-20 minute wait time?), why would they bother coming back to buy a second book this way? I mean, if they're the type of consumer who puts speed and price above personal interaction, a quality looking product, and actually being able to read the first couple pages of the book they're considering buying, why the hell wouldn't they just stay at home and download the e-book -- for free?

Alright, so that's this jerk's knee-jerk reaction to Jovan's McBookstore 3000. What's yours?

Book Review:
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters (Fingersmith and The Night Watch) has built a reputation for writing literary gothic stories reminiscent of Henry James and Shirley Jackson. Her talents for creating realistic historical settings and unique characters come to fruition in her newest novel, The Little Stranger.
Post WW2, the Ayres family struggles to hold onto Hundreds Hall, a crumbling English great house that still retains a fading remnant of its glory. Mrs. Ayres clings to her past in an attempt to imagine that the aristocracy still holds power, even as massive social changes sweep postwar England. Her son, Roderick, terribly wounded and scarred from battle, exhausts himself working on the land to try to keep Hundreds solvent. Spinster daughter, Caroline, who is bright and bitter, tries to keep up some semblance of family. Into their Grey Gardens style lives appears Dr. Faraday, who as a young boy visited the great house during a village fĂȘte, and became enamored of Hundreds. The Ayres alternately welcome the distraction of the outsider Faraday and then remind him of his humble origins.
Each character is trapped by circumstance and by the house that holds deep secrets. Their lives are bound by a darkness they have yet to comprehend, and the unraveling of their pride, fears, and longings brews up a chilling storm of consequences.
The Little Stranger makes for compelling reading; in addition to featuring nuanced characters and psychological insight, it has a surprise ending that will change your interpretation of all the preceding events.

Reviewed by Inkwell Michelle

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Scritchy-Scratchy Cover Art of Skottie Young

Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1
Iron Man: Armored Adventures

Iron Man: Armor Wars #1
Wolverine: First Class #18

Captain Britain & MI13 #12
Wolverine: First Class #19

Locals Only: Harry Potter Exhibit is Coming to Boston's Museum of Science

From The Museum of Science's website:
This fall, Harry Potter fans will get the chance to step inside the famous wizard's magical world through Harry Potter: The Exhibition, which opens at the Museum of Science, Boston on October 25, 2009, at 9 a.m. Tickets are now available online at or by calling 617-723-2500, 617-589-0417. Visitors will be able to experience dramatic displays inspired by the Hogwarts film sets and see the amazing craftsmanship behind authentic costumes and props from the films. Harry Potter: The Exhibition will run in Boston through February 21, 2010.
For more info, click here.

Book News, In Brief

Carrie Prejean -- the former Miss California & current anti-gay marriage mouthpiece -- has garnered herself a book deal, proving that closed minds do occasionally open books.

Malaysia -- home of pineapple, palm oil, and bookstores where the books come wrapped in plastic. (FWIW, I'm writing this from America -- home of apple pie, peanut oil, and grandmothers' couches wrapped in plastic.)

I don't know if this marks the start of an anti-anti-corporate movement, or if the New York Times was just so hard up for news that they thought stating the obvious would somehow suffice: When Big-Box Stores Smile on a Book, Sleepy Titles Can Become Best Sellers.

A day after Barnes & Noble announced their entry into the e-book business, their stock price fell 70 cents (or a little over 3%) to $21.41. Although the publishing industry sees electronic libraries as their next big cash cow, the rest of the world seems to view this as just a bunch of bull.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Go, Look: James Jean's Kindling

One word: Gorgeous.
Six additional words: For a peek inside, click here.

Adaptation News
(for those who just prefer to watch) asks and answers, After Watchmen, What’s ‘Unfilmable’?

Jane Campion, the directorial genius behind The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady, has made a biopic about John Keats as seen through the eyes of "the love of his short life, girl next door Fanny Brawne." Eye-gougingly gorgeous photos can be glimpsed here.

I didn't give a damn when DC announced that Ryan Reynolds had been cast as the Green Lantern. But when I woke up this morning to read that Galaxy Quest scribes David Howard and Robert Gordon are penning a Bizarro Superman script, I nearly dropped my Gogurt. Galaxy Quest was hilarious! Via.

Lord of the Rings star Sean Bean is sticking to the tried and true, taking the lead role in HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy series Game of Thrones. Also LOTR related, the sets for Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of The Hobbit are starting to appear on the New Zealand countryside. Pictures of uncompleted Hobbit holes are here.

Tim Burton's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass has added yet another element to its already expansive online advertising blitz: Character Facebook Pages! Yes, now you can become e-friends with fictional characters, or -- even better -- send your phone-cam nude shots to the Mad Hatter in hopes of Johnny Depp happening across them and becoming your e-lover. As the Cheshire Cat would say, "Meow!"

An emasculating admission: I'm looking forward to seeing Nora Ephron's upcoming adaptation of Julie & Julia. I had a childhood crush on Julia Child, and currently harbor an ongoing adult obsession with Meryl Streep, so seeing the two of them combined is more than enough to ensure my matinee ticket purchase. Another reason I'm looking forward to the film version of Julie Powell's bestselling blog-to-memoir? Apparently, Julia Child had a less-than-positive reaction to Powell's "stunt," and I'm curious to know what could irk such a normally jovial babe. Via.
Related: Movie City News asks, Latest Book From Author Of Julie & Julia Delayed Until After Movie. Could It Be Because Her Hubby's Not So Sympathetic In Its Pages?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

White Readers, Meet Black Authors
(a book blog recommendation)

I stumbled across White Readers Meet Black Authors last Saturday while scouring the internet for romance novel news bits, and have been obsessively ingesting their archives ever since. The blog's by-line -- "Your official invitation into the African American section of the bookstore! A sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted plea for EVERYBODY to give a black writer a try." -- pretty much sums up the purpose of the site, so I'm gonna go ahead and pontificate on the subject for a paragraph or two before circling back around to the recommendation.

(Clears throat, rests hands on either side of podium)

We all notice the color of someone's skin, be they a cousin, a co-worker, an acquaintance or an artist. And whether we like to admit it or not, our behavior, demeanor and conversation are often altered by it -- even if it's only slightly and unintentionally. If we were to take an accounting of our acquaintances, it's safe to say that the majority of us would find that most of our friends shared our skin color. After all, isn't there some truth to the lie that someone who looks/dresses/talks like us has more in common with us than someone who does not? But if we allow ourselves to play it safe, to put up walls around ourselves, to hermetically seal ourselves in a stagnant social and cultural casket, we're, in a word, f**ked. Not only are we sowing the seeds of ignorance in ourselves (with ignorance being the root of racism), we're robbing ourselves of a broader intelligence, an expanded empathy, and a wider variety of life experiences. And for what? To avoid having our preconceptions challenged? Where's the fun in that?

I see this a lot at our bookstore. More often than not, White customers buy books by White authors.* While this in no way makes them racist, their unwillingness to explore something outside their comfort zone does make them dull. What makes these FUBU buying habits even more frustrating is the fact that the majority of these White readers consider themselves to be highly liberal thinkers. They listen to world music, they donate money to Darfur, and they campaigned en masse to make Barack Obama the President of the United States. Still, I dare you to try and push Chester Himes' If He Hollers Let Him Go on a fan of Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays. Both books deal with the slowly crumbling mental states of misfit Los Angelenos, both books make frequent and poetic use of dream imagery, and both books garnered their authors considerable critical acclaim at the times of their release. So what keeps Mr. and Mrs. Whiteperson from picking up Himes' novel while they wait the requisite 7-10 years for Didion's next? You know the answer. It's the pigmentation of the author and his protagonist. Simple as that.

Another thing that makes this segregated reading style so nuts? We're living in a world where Black movie stars, athletes and musicians are considered to be the arbiters of cool. So why are the biggest, so-called 'hippest' faces in the literary world almost all White? In today's hip-hop-centric society, it would seem like keeping the status quo in such a state of stasis would actually require some effort. Or is it just the fact that 99% of the literary world's gatekeepers -- be they agents, interns, publishers or bookstore owners -- are bookish White folks who never really grew up exposing themselves to anything other than the bookish White by-products of other bookish White folks? Could the publishing industry's lack of prominent, young Black writers simply be the result of its historically White world view?

Let me put that another way: If you grew up only listening to rock music, chances are you'd miss the lyrical genius of a rapper like Notorious B.I.G. -- despite the fact that his story-telling techniques are quite similar to, say, Paul McCartney's or Lou Reed's. To take it a step further, if you grew up only listening to rock music, chances are you wouldn't be giving Biggie Smalls a listen in the first place. It's the same thing with literature. For the past few years, the book blog world has been eagerly awaiting the release of Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked -- a.k.a. Hornby's return to music writing. Yet there's an amazing book titled Songs In The Key Of My Life by a Black author named Ferentz Lafargue that got ignored by virtually all of these same book blogs at the time of its release -- despite the fact that Lafargue's smart and funny blending of memoir and music reviews made Songs the perfect fix for a Hornby fan suffering from withdrawal. Care to take a guess why?

Anyway, that's my admittedly overly-simplistic two cents on what is obviously a complicated and controversial topic. Author Carleen Brice, the main brain behind White Readers Meet Black Authors, has plenty of her own ideas on the subject, all of which she presents in a series of thoughtful, conversational, and un-accusatory posts (wholly unlike mine!). Listed below are a few of my favorites:

The similarity between Black authors and Dr. Seuss' Whos.

In response to Newsweek's recent 50 Books for Our Times, they've complied a list of 40+ Books that W.R.M.B.A. Suggest You Read Now.

An introduction to authors writing about slavery in a manner that is neither guilt and/or shame-inducing, nor old-fashioned in its approach.

The 12 days of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa -- specifically day 5's recommendation, Getting Mother's Body by Suzan-Lori Parks. I am so getting this book now.

A discussion about 'What constitutes a Black book?' that starts with a 'Which one of these things is not like the others' game and ends with one of the most thought-provoking comments threads...ever.

*It's also true that our male customers mainly buy books by male authors, our female customers primarily buy books by female authors, our Black customers buy books mostly by Black authors, and our gay customers tend to favor gay authors. In a future post, we'll do our best to address all of these self-imposed parameters. But for now, let's try and stay on topic, okay?

Tuesday's Tips for Flailing Writers has selected 7 books as Summer Reading for Writers. (Ignore their online shopping links, though. Buy local!)

Spinning off of that 'buy local' line, Joe Queenan and The NYTimes recommend neighborhood escort services for authors touring unfamiliar areas. (No parenthetical required.)

Italics, quotations, or line by line verse -- what are the rules for writing a character singing? (And a follow-up question for the Fantasy folk: Aren't the rules different when the song is in Elvish?)

Quips & Tips for Successful Writers humbly submits 6 Tips for Submitting Sample Chapters to Publishers. (My advice: Treat it like dating. Save your steamy sex scenes 'til at least the second submission.)

Kristen of Pub Rants is an agent, so you really oughta heed her advice to authors who think they're going to meet up with an agent at a conference. (Unless you enjoy awkward introductions and uncomfortable silences. In which case, as you were.)

Write to Done has 5 Simple First Draft Secrets. (An unsolicited 6th: Remember, it's only your first draft. This is like learning to cook when you know you're the only one who's gonna eat it. Worse comes to worst, you stick your finger down your throat and vomit/place your finger firmly on the Delete key and curse the muse.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Monday Menagerie: Bookish Burials II

Our first Bookish Burials menagerie featured book-themed tombstones currently available for purchase ("Die now -- while supplies last!"). This one highlights the gravestones of famous authors, specifically those with a humorous and/or demented bent. Enjoy!

Robert Frost's eternal last words: "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

Charles Bukowski's cheery cheerio: "Don't try."

Two faux epitaphs from Kurt Vonnegut, courtesy of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Okay, so Harvey Comics founder Alfred Harvey's tombstone is neither humorous nor demented, but you've gotta admit, if you were to stumble across it while walking through an otherwise somber graveyard, it would surely make you smile. (Photo via: Cartoon Brew)

Book News, In Brief

Let's start this off on a positive note, so when the inevitable deluge of bad news follows, you'll feel like you still have something to live for. Life of Pi author, Yann Martel, has sold a manuscript for his follow-up novel for approximately $3 million. The new book is an allegory about the Holocaust, once again involving animals.

Okay, so maybe news of a new Holocaust book isn't really what most folks would consider "a positive note." But this gay (as in happy), gay (as in totally homo) news bit is sure to make our closeted Catholic readers smile: First the Vatican praised Harry Potter, now they're offering the post-mortem olive branch to Oscar Wilde. Will miracles never cease?

Over-priced college bookstores are about to suffer the collective karmic payback of hundreds of years of ripping off their campus-dwelling clientele. According to the News-Press of Fort Meyers, a new Florida law is forcing colleges to list all required texts at least 30 days before the semester starts, "giving students ample time to scour eBay, Craigslist or Amazon for new or used books at discounted prices."

Here's hoping there's some kind of cruel, karmic retribution for freaks like the one mentioned in Sunday's Toronto Sun: "A comic book store owner is accused of voyeurism after police say he was caught using a hidden camera to spy on a woman in the store's washroom. Officers were called to Dragon's Realm...after the young woman's boyfriend found a video camera. [...] The young couple, both 21, went to the store to pick up some comics they had ordered. While they were in the store, the woman asked to use the restroom. As she walked to the back of the store, the owner allegedly followed behind and entered an adjoining room. The woman's boyfriend thought the owner's behaviour was suspicious, so he decided to walk to the back of the store to investigate [...]. That's when he found a video camera mounted on a tripod in the room next door."

I could try to tie this news item into the last one by saying something like, 'While voyeurs videotape bookstore bathrooms, Big Brother patrols your e-book purchases,' but I won't. Cuz that would be insensitive. Instead, I'll go with the far less interesting: Less than a week after the cracks began to show on Amazon's Kindle, along comes the unannounced, automatic, incontestable removal of George Orwell titles from users' e-Books. So what happened? An Amazon spokesperson told Publishers Weekly that "the books were added to the Kindle catalog by a third-party using the company's self-service platform who did not own the rights to the books," and that when they were "notified by the rightsholder that the copies were illegal, Amazon removed the titles from its system and customers' devices and refunded their money."