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Friday, December 26, 2003

How I spent Christmas night 

Since really, it's just another day except for the fact that there's barely anything on TV and all the stores are shut, I pretty much spent yesterday killing off brain cells.

In other words, I watched World Idol in its entirety.

It's funny; I barely saw the first edition of American Idol (though god help me, I have a weird liking for Kelly's single Miss Independent for some inexplicable reason) and only caught snippets of the Ruben-and-Clay show that was AI2. So why watch World Idol? Oh, I dunno, probably because I was bored. Also because I was curious to see the standards of the other countries in picking their winners. So, my oh-so-unofficial thoughts on last night's broadcast:

For one thing, I got to see both the US and Canadian editions. Very interesting to see the difference in editing, what comments were left in and out (more on that later) and more importantly, whenever I got sick and tired of looking at Ben Mulroney's ugly mug (honey, you're not going to age well, no matter how stunning your mother was and perhaps still is. Doomed!) I gather the two Northern lads (caveat: I thought they were Irish, my mother corrected me. So much for my summer in the UK) host Pop Idol in that country. They were OK, though they overdid the whole laddishness a bit. Amazing though that I preferred FOX to CTV. In 99% of other things, it's the other way around....

The German dude: oy gevalt, what was he thinking? 80s cheese combined with my gaydar going off the charts. Oversung, overemoted, over-everything. No wonder the judges killed him.

Even though Diana Karazon has no chance whatsoever of winning, anyone that chooses to sing in a different language is fine by me,though I wouldn't call it "brave" like the judges did. She has a nice presence, a promising voice. But, and this was a trend the entire night, get the goddamned mike away from your face. The audience wants to see your entire face, not just 1/3 of it. Also, she could do with some more confidence, but she used her voice rather well.

The Australian kid may have the best stage presence and charisma, but I kind of agree with Simon on his odd look. It works...but it almost shouldn't. Kurt Nilssen of Norway has the best voice, but he needs a backing band. So does Peter Evrard, although it amused the hell out of me that he did a Kurt Cobain impression.

And what of Ryan Malcolm? Sigh. He's OK, but bland, bland, bland--this was the best my country could do? Almost makes me want to step up and audition for Canadian Idol II, except that I've got a classically trained voice and frankly, endured too many years of stupid judges to go through that bullshit again. But anyway...

Will Young. Why? WHY? He's so vanilla boring. Britain, I'm sorry, but if I wanted to see an updated Cliff Richard, well, I could go and dig up the actual guy. Gah. I hear the new Pop Idol winner has more promise, though.

Then there was Kelly. Yes, it was boorish of the Canadian judge to diss her singing except....he was right. If you're going to sing "Natural Woman"--and this was made especially clear as it was on one of the radio stations here this morning--then you cannot have rough high notes at the top, and you can't overbelt. Which, sadly, was what Ms. Clarkson was doing. She has great stage presence, star quality, none of that's in doubt. Oddly enough, there's something Streisand-esque about her sound. Meaning that it's very suited to Broadway, which is far more Kelly's calling than pop.

As for the judging, it was especially neat to see what was left in and out of different broadcasts. For example, on the American broadcast, Simon talked about how Kurt has an "astonishing voice" and is the darkhorse to win. On the Canadian broadcast, both bits were interspersed with an "honest appraisal" of the fact that well, he's got a great voice for radio but isn't exactly good looking enough to be marketed as a pop singer. Ryan Malcolm got more judge's comments on the Canadian edition but was barely present in the US one. Other than that, it was about equal--the Polish guy was a complete oddball in both cases, the Belgian woman still had the Lisa Loeb look going on, and Zack Werner was god-awfully annoying.

The verdict? Total cheese, but entertaining as hell. Now, if only I can convince my friends to watch the New Year's Broadcast with me....


Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Twas the day before Christmas 

And all I'm doing is sleeping in late and blogging.

A few months ago, there was a big flap about the Chinese publisher of Hillary Clinton's LIVING HISTORY censoring the book for anything anti-China or whatnot. Simon & Schuster demanded that the bits go back in. They were rebuffed, and now S&S has cancelled the contract and demands the remaining inventory be destroyed.

What do you get when you cross Zoe Trope with The Sexual Life of Catherine M? Probably something approximating 18 year old Melissa Panarello's runaway success in Italy, ONE HUNDRED STROKES OF THE HAIRBRUSH BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP (which you know will be changed when the book will be published by Grove/Atlantic in English next fall.) Cup of Chicha linked to the story first and has some dead-on commentary about the whole business.

I actually saw this yesterday but Gov. Pataki has finally pardoned Lenny Bruce on the 1964 obscenity charge. Isn't it kinda too late now? But no matter. My memories of Bruce are, naturally, limited to record and celluloid, but I will forever remember his appearance on the premiere episode of Playboy's Penthouse, if only because he made all sorts of crazy jokes about Jewish funerals. Ah, Lenny.

Mark directs me to Danger Blog! which is putting up MP3s of Peter Sellers doing all sorts of parodies. As a child, I wore out the CD of Peter's greatest comedy hits (or whatever the compilaton was actually titled.) Although I thought "A Hard Day's Night" was hilarious, I'm also partial to his rendition of "She Loves You" (done in a distinctly, er, Germanic style) , "Goodness Gracious Me" (with Sophia Loren, whom he was kind of stalking at the time) , and a sketch that sadly, isn't available online, "Auntie Rotter", an absolutely brilliant feat of macabre storytelling involving a kind-hearted (or is she?) old lady.....

And finally, this story was too funny to pass up. A case of parental relationships gone horribly awry, or just two dogs wanting to beat the shit out of each other? You decide.

Anyway, that's it. A slow day, indeed. Enjoy your holidays, whatever they may be. Have fun, and keep safe.


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The Pendelton May Award 

The news is several weeks later, but no matter: faithful reader Babs Horton has written in to let me know that she was the recipient of the Pendleton May Award for Best First Novel of 2003 for the well-received (and deservedly so) A JARFUL OF ANGELS. She triumphed over an impressive shortlist which included the likes of Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and Edward Docx's THE CALLIGRAPHER.

Congratulations, Babs, and I know I'm not the only one looking forward to the next book, which will be out in the summertime from Simon & Schuster UK.



I've had Flanders & Swann in the CD player ever since the story broke 

This paragraph, if it's truly as irony free as I think it is, sums it all up:

"The court has yet to hear from a man who wanted to be eaten by Herr Meiwes and who then withdrew from the cannibal's life, having apparently had a better offer to be eaten in time for the Russian Orthodox Christmas, which falls on January 6. There was some confusion yesterday as to whether that victim was still available for questioning."

And as for the song in question, enjoy its succulent contents.


Not much to say today, really 

All the good stuff is being linked elsewhere, so a few choice comments this afternoon as I get used to life with orthotics:

Yes, the picture of Elizabeth "It's pronounced like SPY magazine" Spiers is not terribly flattering at all, but the profile certainly is. I think she'd also make a fine candidate to participate in the upcoming musical based on "But I'm a Cheerleader." (I kid you not. Though of course, I can't find a link to the story anywhere right now.)

Note to everyone who's linking it: the Hartford Courant article on Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak's BRUNDIBAR makes no mention whatsoever of Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze's upcoming collaboration on WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. That's only been reported in Time Out New York, which was what Maud was originally talking about. Just thought I'd clear that little bit of business up. Now, of course, my gut reaction on the news, which is that it's going to be an absolute disaster. Dave Eggers? DAVE EGGERS? God, what's next, Jonathan Safran Foer adapting HARRIET THE SPY? (Oh, wait. Donna Tartt already did that.) Anyway, I think I might keel over from the implications of all those sentences....

EDIT: Actually, the Dave Eggers reference is there, but in reading the article twice and using that dratted CTRL-F function, I managed to miss it. Maybe I'm allergic to the mention of Eggers in print? Anyway, for more on the matter, go see Ed's post on trying to get the scoop once and for all.

Wanna know why the Lord of the Rings trilogy is so damned popular? Then join up a 40,000 pound study sponsored by the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, on that very matter. Answer questions like "Where and when is Middle Earth to you?" For more information (if you dare), check out this link.

With the impending release of the movie Paycheck, which is the fifth movie based on a novel or story by Philip K. Dick, the National Post asks: are the movies really doing his work justice? Considering that Ridley Scott dismissed DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP quickly, saying he'd never read the book he based Blade Runner on, and it has turned out to be the movie "most faithful to Dick's version," maybe there's something to that.

And finally, Happy Festivus, everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The last Lunch Weekly of 2003 

Although to misquote a hoary axiom, if a book deal occurs over a holiday, and no one is there to report it, did the deal actually take place? Ponder that as I guide you through the notables and well, not so notable.

In the "Frightening Fathers" dep't:

Andre Agassi's father Mike Agassi's BETTING THE HOUSE: The Agassi Story, ranging from Mike's hard-scrabble upbringing in Iran to his emigration to the United States and his attempt to turn each of his four children into tennis phenoms, with dozens of photos, written with Kate Shoup Welsh and Dominic Cobello, to Jack David at ECW, for publication in time for the 2004 US Open, by Drew Nederpelt at Metropol Literary (NA).

This would never have happened oh, eight years ago or so when Andre was playing Challenger tourneys.

In the "Cool Pre-Feminist Women" dep't:

Washington Post staff reporter Kirstin Downey's untitled biography of Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member who, as Secretary of Labor under FDR, became the chief architect of the New Deal and single-handedly changed the landscape of the American workforce, while wrestling with a complex personal life, to Lorna Owen at Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, in a good deal, by Gail Ross at the Gail Ross Literary Agency (NA).

Then there's "research for Dennis Lehane's upcoming trilogy":

Boston Herald columnist and WRKO-AM radio show host Howie Carr's WHITEY AND BILLY: The Story of the Bulger Brothers, combining columns and new material about the fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger and his brother William M., former president of the state Senate and the University of Massachusetts, to Warner, in a good deal, for publication in early 2005.

And obviously The Stones have started a disturbing new trend:

SO WHAT! The Metallibook by Metallica, edited by Steffan Chirazi, full-time chronicler of the band and editor of So What! Magazine, the band's first official book, a lavishly illustrated scrapbook, with over 1,000 photographs, documenting the band's more than spectacular journey, to Charlie Conrad at Broadway, for publication in August 2004 (when the band will be in the middle of an extensive tour), by Lydia Wills at Writers and Artists Agency International.

In the somewhat bizarre:

Richard Polsky's LOOKING FOR T REX, a narrative following the author's search for a tyrannosaurus rex and the eccentric world of fossil collectors, to Colin Dickerman at Bloomsbury USA, by Bonnie Nadell at Fred Hill Bonnie Nadell Agency (world English).

And what happens when you look for a T-Rex and only come up with a stegosaurus? Oh, the hilarity that ensues! Anyway...

Turning to fiction, it looks like Louise Bagshawe's touting as "the 21st Century Jackie Collins" might be even more on the mark, because guess what, her younger sister (not named Joan) is getting in on the act too:

30-year-old British journalist (and younger sister of bestselling novelist, Louise Bagshawe) Tilly Bagshawe's debut novel BIRTHRIGHT, the story of Hollywood dynasty, the McMahons--a family bound together by ambition, greed and secrets--from the forties to the present day, to Kate Mills at Orion, in a major deal, at auction, for two books, for publication beginning in January 2005, by Tif Loehnis at Janklow and Nesbit UK (UK/Commonwealth). The agency's US office sold US rights to Warner.

Introducing the next Nell Freudenberger:

Author of the story "Extra" is in the winter fiction Issue of The New Yorker and recipient of the Paris Review Plimpton Prize for new writers Yiyun Li's collection of short stories and a novel, to Kate Medina at Random House, by Richard Abate at ICM (NA).

Actually that's rather unfair, since Ms. Li has had several short stories published already--unlike the lovely Nell before her New Yorker fame--and is at the Iowa Writer's Workshop doing two MFAs (Creative Writing and Nonfiction.)

In the "what exactly is this story about" dep't:

26-year-old Harvard History PhD student Lauren Willig's THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION, in which a young American grad student travels to London to research the famous Napoleonic spy the Scarlet Pimpernel, where she finds an even more alluring historical story....and a "hero" of her own, to Laurie Chittenden at Dutton, in a pre-empt, for two books, by Joe Veltre at Carlisle & Company (world English).

I mean...is it romance, thriller, coming-of-age, what? And never mind that besides being a Harvard PhD student, Willig did her undergrad at Yale. My god, I think she has even more Ivy cred than Matthew Pearl.

I don't know if "wicked opulence" is what I would have thought of concerning the Atlanta Summer Games, but whatever sells the book, I suppose:

Author of BookSense 76 pick Trouble with Girls Marshall Boswell's first novel ALTERNATIVE ATLANTA, about a confounded young rock critic coping simultaneously with his father's sudden appearance, his ex-girlfriend's new marriage, and the wicked opulence of the '96 Olympic Games, to Danielle Perez at Bantam, by Jim Rutman at Sterling Lord Literistic (NA).

According to his bio he has another novel in the pipeline. No doubt it'll see the light of day at some point as well.

Ken Bruen in Publishers Weekly 

Since PW became a subscriber-only site, they've robbed a lot of people of good content, like this new interview of Ken Bruen on the eve of the US publication of THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS. Thus I'm reproducing it in its entirety. I shan't make a habit of the practice, but occasionally, it's warranted.

PW: Let's talk first about Jack Taylor, the hardened yet bookish protagonist of The Guards and now The Killing of the Tinkers.

Ken Bruen: Jack Taylor is a tribute to the American private eye, but like meself, his greatest gift was a library ticket as a child. To go to the library in the old days, you had to go to the courthouse and pass all these huge [police] Guards and it lodged in my mind: Guards and books. Like me, he's an old Galwegian, an endangered species. Jack feels pain to an inordinate degree, like I did, which was a real handicap in a macho world, so you develop a front to survive. Like Frederick Exley, the booze dims the lights.

PW: There's a wistfulness in the books for the old Galway, before all of this new growth and Americanization. Jack complains bitterly about it.

KB: The new prosperity fucked us entirely, kids speaking with mid-Atlantic accents and cash being the new medium of respect. The clash between the old and the new is fertile ground for any novel, especially here, where as the tinkers of the world, we suddenly became a host nation, deporting non-nationals.

PW: Jack's an extremely well-read man and an autodidact. Books give meaning to his life and provide solace when nothing else can. He's constantly referring to the books he's reading, which are often by neglected crime writers.

KB: That was my way of getting books that were ignored some attention. James Sallis isn't even stocked in Galway, [nor is] Daniel Woodrell. Don't even try to find Chester Himes. Plus, it got up the precious literary set's noses, and I love to do that. I go demented that no one here has heard of, say, George V. Higgins.

PW: The Gardai Síochána [Irish police], as you portray it, is just like any other police force in terms of its corruption. How have the Jack Taylor novels been received in Ireland? Have you had any feedback from the Guards themselves?

KB: The Guards kept quiet about the books for a time, then one morning a package came containing a Zippo lighter with an unsigned note saying, "We don't always approve of what you write, but stay with it." My daughter, who's a feisty 11-year-old with Down's syndrome, goes up to Guards in the street and asks, "Do you know my dad?" and the answer is, "Alas, yes." My own favorite bit: I portrayed the women Guards as always wearing tiny pearl earrings. Well, lo and behold, my wife tells me she's noticed a whole batch of them sporting said items.

PW: In The Killing of the Tinkers, Jack investigates the serial murders of a number of young Irish Gypsies. The Guards are completely indifferent to the killings. Can you say a few words about the marginalization of the clans in Ireland, and do you see this situation improving?

KB: The tinkers are the outcasts of Irish society, but their traditional place of scorn has recently been supplanted by the racialism around the refugees. When the book came out [in Ireland], I was on stage with Gerry Adams, and they sent a woman to say, "Thank you for giving dignity to us."

PW: Your books are firmly grounded in the noir tradition. Has the Irish literary establishment begun to accept crime fiction, or do you find yourself ghettoized as a "genre writer"?

KB: The Irish Times ignored me for years as just a crime writer, and then, with the success around the world, they called, and I said there'd be a huge harvest of young crime writers in the next few years. Already, there are more than 20 with first novels out; suddenly it's cool to be a crime writer. For years, they wouldn't acknowledge me, and then I was invited to a literary festival by mistake and a leading light of the Irish [literary] mafia asked for me to be removed.

The Ballad of Essie Mae 

Low Culture reports on the new movie deal on the life of Strom Thurmond's not-a-secret-anymore illegitimate daughter. Because I felt like digging into this a little further, the screenwriter is currently slated to be Horton Foote, who's best known for penning the screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird (1963), All the President's Men (1975) and Tender Mercies (1983). He's also won a Pulitzer and has written in all sorts of fields. He's also a strapping eighty-seven years of age, which means that no doubt he remenbers the late Senator in all of his, uh, glory. Meanwhile, the script will be based on a treatment by Washington Post reporter Marilyn Thompson, who not only is the co-author of a biography on Thurmond (as well as the author of a book on bioterrorism), but gave a speech about the subject at--wait for it--the Strom Thurmond Institute of Public Affairs at Clemson University.

It's all about the interconnectedness of the world, I suppose. But like any deal, let's see if this actually gets off the ground.

A light dose of news 

Thought you had enough once the Lord of the Rings trilogy finished? Think again. CS Lewis' The Narnia Chronicles is the next series to get an epic movie treatment. Wonder how much of the Christian overtones will be kept. The first book was great, the rest....

JG Ballard follows the trend of turning down awards--this time, the CBE. He tells the Guardian why he did so.

The Washington Post reviews Ayelet Waldman's DAUGHTER'S KEEPER, wondering if the morality tale about the war on drugs might have been better served in a nonfiction book.

What makes books beautiful? Is it the content, the cover art, the size? More often than not it's due, in part, to those who bind them. More in the Financial Times about these unsung heroes.

The Globe & Mail comments on the whole Eats, Shoots and Leaves phenomenon. I just want to know why every time I type that I think of HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES?

The G&M also interviews crime writer Minette Walters, whose latest novel DISORDERED MINDS has been getting reviewed in scads of places of late. It looks like Minette will be taking a bit of a sabbatical from writing in the next little while as she's had to endure some family tragedies in the last year or so.

And finally, in a blogger's delight, Maud Newton, Robert Birnbaum, Alex Good, Michael Orthofer, and Jessa Crispin participated in a round-table discussion talking about the Year in Books. Check it out. (link from Maud.)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Sunday, snowy Sunday 

How to solve an internet connection problem: tell the folks at the cable company to come over and tighten a screw in the outside cable box. Who'd have ever thunk it? Anyway, for all those who emailed, thanks for the well-wishes on that regard.

Before I get to the news, I suppose I might as well jump on the blogging bandwagon and pretty much take the next two weeks off. And I might, but since I don't really do the Christmas thing, and my holiday weeks will bear an uncanny resemblance to my life these past few months--well, it'll be slow here, but not dead.

First, to the crime fiction stuff: Matthew Pearl's THE DANTE CLUB gets a nice write-up in today's Observer, while at the same paper, man-about-town Peter Guttridge (who, we think, really ought to have delivered a new novel by now) rounds up the latest and best in the genre: some of the usual suspects include Andrew Taylor's Historical Dagger-winning THE AMERICAN BOY (and let's congratulate him on his spiffy new three-book deal with Penguin/Michael Joseph, where editrix extraordinaire Beverley Cousins will edit), Baltimore twin Dan Fesperman, the short story collection MEN FROM BOYS (which, grumble, I still don't own yet, but it would make a perfectly wonderful holiday present), and more.

Australia's Crime Factory rounds up their best books of the year, asking various reviewers and authors to give their lists. Craig McDonald, who pointed me to the roundup, picks James Sallis' CYPRESS GROVE and Charlie Stella's CHARLIE OPERA. Ken Bruen (who, sad to say, won't be touring in the US for the upcoming US publication of THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS after all, much to my and many others' disappointment) picks Keith Ablow's PSYCHOPATH and one of my top picks of the year, Lono Waiwaiole's debut noir novel WILEY'S LAMENT.

Speaking of McDonald, his latest interview is with Don Bruns, the author of JAMAICA BLUE and most recently, BARBADOS HEAT. They are the first two in a projected series of mysteries starring music journalist Mick Sever. Reading the interview made me scarf up the first book, which is now holding steady in Mt. TBR.

In more literary matters, what of the distinction between "serious" and "light" reading? Ought there be a separation? And if so, how to get youngsters to read the classics? The Sun-Sentinel takes a look at a new book by Susan Bauer which offers tips, however flawed, in that regard.

How much does the title have to do with getting the books off bookshelves and into readers' arms? Depends who you ask, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, which has a long feature on the complex world of book titles.

And finally, in more sobering news, I want to wish a speedy and heartfelt recovery to Barbara Franchi, webmaster of the Reviewing the Evidence site and an all-around delight to the crime fiction community. Take care of yourself, and we'll see you back to your lists, haunts and stomping grounds in no time.

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