Friday, January 02, 2004

Playing catch-up 

South African writer Antjie Krog is about to be captured on celluloid, with Juliette Binoche playing the role. Krog muses about the subject, among other things.

Stefan Zweig is considered one of the best writers in his native France; so why has the English-speaking world been so slow to catch on? The Telegraph attempts to find out why.

Also at the Daily T is an interview with children's author Lauren Child and a close look at why some celeb biographies are successful and why others just aren't.

The latest edition of Storyteller: A NOVEL VIEW is available online. I stumbled across the website while perusing James Lee Burke's site one day and came across the interview he'd done with "The BookSquirt", as Tammy refers to herself. Lots of interviews (this month including Edward Wright and Jim Fusilli), book reviews (including a very nice one of Sean Doolittle's BURN), and even some short fiction as well. More is available at the A Novel View website, which looks very promising indeed.

And finally, Rick Groen of the Globe and Mail laments that Steve Martin has become a complete sellout, and worse, that "the worlds of theatre and literature would not be significantly poorer places if Martin hadn't written a word. By contrast, the world of film is much worse off because of his artistic departure." As this comes only a scant few hours after having a similar discussion with my brother, I'm all the more interested. No question that CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN is a crappy movie, one that totally messes and destroys with the original content of Frank Gilbreth's book (never mind the Clifton Webb movie.) BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE wasn't much better. So why? Like Groen, I think it's a question of money, but also that for whatever reason, Martin's not terribly interested anymore in the possibilities of film. He takes the moolah and it supports the projects that he really wants to do right now: plays, books, droll little essays. We, as his once-adoring public, may feel he's making the wrong move, but what can we do, force-feed him into movies he doesn't want to do even though he might be better served doing them? Sure, I'd like to see the Steve Martin of old, but instead, we're getting a Steve Martin that's, well, old.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Too nice for words? 

It's unfortunate that the Telegraph is ridiculously slow at putting articles up on the web, but I finally got a hold of a profile of Alexander McCall Smith from December 21. When the link goes live, I'll put it up, but frankly, it's a rather strange piece. The interviewer seems to try so hard to be snide about McCall Smith's considered decision to write about common human decency and the human condition rather than to expose the seamy underbelly of Edinburgh like Irvine Welsh is wont to do:

McCall Smith has little time for the grittier fiction of his peers. He shudders when I mention DBC Pierre, who won this year's Booker Prize with a novel containing 555 expletives, and looks positively revolted at the thought of Irvine Welsh, a fellow Scot whose novels depict life on Edinburgh housing estates: "I've got no time for that. I've got complete contempt for that. I feel that writing is a moral act. I feel that those who portray an aggressive, vulgar, debased attitude towards life are conniving in that life, and I think publishers should reject them."

Are they not simply representing reality? "I think Irvine Welsh has been a travesty for Scotland. It portrays a notion of Scottish miserabilism. But most people in Scotland aren't like that. They are like the people here, tonight - they don't behave like that." (In fact, most people in Scotland are probably not quite like the people in our restaurant, who are spending pounds 50 each on dinner.)

Now, I can see there's a bit of a dichotomy present, but making such concerted attempt to widen it smacks of what I think may have been the ulterior motive behind this profile: gee, is Sandy really too nice for words, a little out of touch with what's really going on in the world? Um, no. Besides, if McCall Smith were to ever fathom trying something along the lines of Welsh or Pierre, it would be ridiculous. Not his style, not his voice in the least. This, on the other hand, sums up his voice quite handily:

Does he believe fiction can enhance people's morality? "Of course it can. What we read contributes to the construction of our moral universe. I think that if we dwell on aggression we shouldn't be surprised when people turn to violence. I suppose, as a novelist, I'm interested in people's little struggles through life. It sounds very trite, but in the case of Precious Ramotswe I'm interested in her trying to lead a decent life."

Which is as it should be. There are plenty of writers who want to wrestle with the bigger struggles; why not do what interests him? Of course, what do I know, I think the man's a genius.

New Year's Notes 


Laura Lippman has updated with a missive on New Year's resolutions, why she doesn't go out looking for reviews, and the quotes the funniest opening paragraph written about the true evil of magazine editors.

Hank Steuver of the WaPo does some kind of What's In/What's Out list for the new year:

"Here's your List for 2004, and it's been 100 percent metrosexualized by yet another bossy sissy. We'd stick around and explain it to you, but everything on our List has already (already?!) been griped about and refuted on somebody's smarter-than-thou blog. (Drat!)"

Wow, the print media acknowledges how behind-the-curve they are compared to blogs? Gosh, that's SO 2003....

The NYT has a feature on the Feminist Press, which has launched an initiative to reissue the best of female pulp writers. I'm especially excited to hear of further reissues of the novels of Dorothy B. Hughes, whose IN A LONELY PLACE was one of the inaugural three. I read it a few weeks back and was knocked for six just how ahead of its time it was. It's without a doubt one of the classics of the genre, and portrays LA in a light that was quite different from fellow noirist Raymond Chandler.

As reported in several places, Brigit Hughes will take over as the editor for the Paris Review in a spot vacated by the death of George Plimpton.

And finally, Kurt Nilssen is the World Idol. I kinda like that, or as Ray Banks put it, it was "even nicer to see Norway winning something on behalf of Middle Earth." Besides, he did outsing Kelly. Now, here's hoping he gets his band tour-ready and fast.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy 2004 

Dunno about all of you, but it's a low-key affair over here. A couple of parties to attend and hangovers to endure, just in time to watch the finale of World Idol tomorrow night (though I'll probably cover my ears during Elton John's appearance...) Here's hoping 2004 starts out on a much more exciting note. And that I finally graduate.

Have a fabulous New Year, everyone; see you in a couple of days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003


As the story of a man trapped under his TBR pile makes the blog-rounds today, all I want to know is: so what did he read while he was buried? If the answer is nothing, isn't that the biggest tragedy of all?

Michelle Paul rounds up the best book-related stories of the year for the Guardian. All the usual stuff, though I hadn't realized that Iain Duncan Smith only got 2,500 pounds for his heavily panned thriller. All that abuse, and hardly any advance to show for it? Now that's tragedy....

The French have finally succumbed. Book commercials will now grace the airwaves in that country, after furious opposition to such an endeavor. The first book to have the honor? Paul Burrell's biography of Princess Di. All that brouhaha and this is the book that gets to go first? Ah well.

There's another Marion Ettlinger profile, this time in Australia's The Age. I've long held that her photos make authors look rather unrealistic and creepy, and there's no greater proof than the accompanying photo of Patricia Highsmith. Um, yikes.

Collected Miscellany reviews Chicago Sun-Times' Book editor--and David Montgomery's boss-- Henry Kisor's debut mystery novel SEASON'S REVENGE

And finally, Wilson--that's the Home Improvement Wacky Neighbor (TM) dude--has died at the age of 61. Who will Tim Allen talk to over the fence now? Oh wait, the show's been cancelled for a few years, hasn't it....

Monday, December 29, 2003

Where's Jean Shepherd when you need him 

That was the classic mother B.B. gun block: "You'll shoot your eye out." That deadly phrase uttered many times before by hundreds of mothers, was not surmountable by any means known to kiddom.

Monday morning musings 

With GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING now in release in North America, with its UK debut soon to follow, Tracy Chevalier tells the Guardian what it was like to watch her best-selling novel become a movie. I remember when I read the book a year or so ago, and was bowled over by how such a small story could be fraught with so much tension. Since then, I've devoured all of Chevalier's novels, and have loved them to varying degrees. THE LADY AND THE UNICORN is out now in the US, and I recommend it highly.

Sun-Sentinel mystery columnist Oline Cogdill rounds up her list of the best of 2003. A lot of the usual suspects--Lehane, Lippman, Connelly, Coben, Crais--make the top twenty, but a few surprises show up in Paula Woods, Carol O'Connell, and Ray Shannon. I'm a bit surprised how few debuts make her list, if only because there were so many good ones that took a bow this past year. Similarly, the main editor at the paper, Chauncey Mabe, gives his top ten of the year.

More crime fiction roundups: Margaret Cannon presents hers for the Globe and Mail. Included on the list are Peter Robinson, Barbara J. Stewart, Anthony O'Neill, and more literary-crime fare that's slightly off the beaten track. She also reviews some of the newer releases in her final column of 2003.

Suzi Feay of the Independent looks at some of the upcoming book catalogues and picks up some of the more noteworthy books that might merit attention in the New Year.

Philip Marchand looks at the year that was in Canadian Literature. Though bookstores are disappearing, there's still good CanLit to be had. And Jack Batten is more than impressed with Karin Fossum's Norwegian-set police procedural thrillers.

And finally, I link to The NY Daily News' gossip column for a whole host of frightening gems: Lydia Hearst (yup, Patty's daughter) whining about something or other, Leo and Gisele engaged (?????) and dubbing Britney and Christina as "The Punch and Judy of Pop." Classic!

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Dating Myths Debunked 

After Maccers' now infamous "The Modern Drunk's Guide to Dating Women, Part I" circulated the blog-world in a virus-like fashion, I didn't think I'd find anything that would come close to its sheer wisdom and truth (and hilarity, of course.) But then Irish author John Connolly put up his treatise on the "Ten Great Myths About the Lonely and Brokenhearted," which first ran in the Irish Times back in 1999 (not 2001, as his site says.)
My favorite of the myths:

6. There is someone for everyone.

This is true. When I was in school her name was Lisa, and the going rate was a Mars bar.

Vicious, but frank. The rest of the article's about as pointed as well.

The other interesting thing to note is that for some reason or another, John changed the last line from what was in the original piece. Then, it read, "Love exists, but you have to be out there to find it. Just don't come running to me when it all falls apart." In the new version, it's now "Hey, and when you do, keep it to yourself, okay? The rest of us have enough problems without adding your happiness to them. . . " I'm guessing the new coda packs a greater wallop, considering the rest of the article's content...

Hot content for the New Year 

The latest edition of SHOTS magazine is now up and running, and it's chock-a-block full of new goodies:

--Ali Karim's sprawling roundup of the goings-on last summer at the Harrogate Crime Festival. Reading it took me back to the wonderful time I had (though I was only "somewhat wrecked.")

--Ayo Onatade's interview of Peter May, who sets his series in the Far East

Forthcoming: a feature on Orion's "New Blood" featuring the UK debuts of nine crime fiction authors; and Ali's report on Bouchercon this past October.

--Several new short stories, including a couple of my own picks. Read Carol Anne Davis' hilariously macabre "How to Save Your Own Life," Aliya Whiteley's spooky little suspense bit "The Message," Geoff Nelder's clever "Fake Fake" and Herschel Cozine's "Faithful Wife."


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