Archive for November, 2009

Do I Dare? And Do I Dare?

WSJ: Does this issue of length apply to books, too? Is a 1,000-page book somehow too much?

CM: For modern readers, yeah. People apparently only read mystery stories of any length. With mysteries, the longer the better and people will read any damn thing. But the indulgent, 800-page books that were written a hundred years ago are just not going to be written anymore and people need to get used to that. If you think you’re going to write something like “The Brothers Karamazov” or “Moby-Dick,” go ahead. Nobody will read it. I don’t care how good it is, or how smart the readers are. Their intentions, their brains are different.

Thus spake Cormac McCarthy in the weekend’s Wall Street Journal.  He may have hit upon a nerve with me as to where I stand in my reading life.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m something of a completist and a tad braggadocios.  I am the kind of person who has, in fact, read Moby-Dick but only so that I can said that I’ve read Moby-Dick (and, yes, I’ve read Moby-Dick).  I’ve also run 4 marathons seemingly only to be able to say that I’ve done so (I’ve, you know, run 4 marathons)…but I digress.

We were talking about books.  I read about 20-30 a year.  That’s cover-to-cover.  I start and abandon scores of books for various reasons but I (a completist) only count the ones that are complete.  Of there 20ish, five or so tend to be stat-padders that I read, mostly in December, just to get my numbers up.  You can say this is unfair but I’d say the same thing about home-runs hit against two-thirds of the pitchers in Major League Baseball but they still count.

However one of them each year will be a project book.  Moby-Dick, Atlas Shrugged, Lonesome Dove; the kind of book that is big and heavy in every sense of both of those words.  A book that takes effort.  In doing this I feel I can justify the collection of sports books and glorified novellas I tack on after Thanksgiving.

For a while now I have been circling Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  And I’m wondering if 2010 shouldn’t be the year to undertake such an Infinite Quest (that was going to be the headline but I really love J. Alfred Prufrock and labor to include it in my conversation as much as is culturally accepted).

The limited amount of Mr. Foster Wallace that I have read I have really enjoyed.  he is pedantic in a way that makes the reader feel spoken-up to instead of spoken down to (if that makes sense).  But what I’ve read have been short stories and articles, the type of things where even if you are struggling the end is in sight so you may as well press on.

One gets the sense that were you to get lost in Infinite Jest it would be like getting lost in an algebra class and it would be impossible to catch up (trust me, I know).

But one also gets the sense that there are books that one must read (or at least attempt) to be taken seriously as a reader.  And that Infinite Jest is one of those books.

Getting back to Mr. McCarthy’s point though, if writing an 800-page book is (self)-indulgent, what is to be said about reading one?  Surely I would be doing it almost exclusively to impress myself (how many of you were truly awed by my Moby-Dick boast?).  What could be more self-indulgent than taking time away from other things to read a book that maybe a handful of people I’ll meet in my life will be conversant in?

Perhaps the best answer as to why attempt Infinite Jest is the same answer George Mallory gave when asked why he attempted to summit Everest: “Because it’s there”.   But I’m not sure I’m ready to buy mountain climbing equipment just yet.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Foster Wallace.



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I used to speculate that we would look back on this era of “gay”-comedy in 20 years the same way we now look at the racist “humor” of the previous generation.  (Addendum: By “gay” humor, I don’t mean humor created by homosexuals but humor in which the butt of the joke is lessened by being categorized as being gay.)  I think we’ll cringe watching re-runs of “Will & Grace” then like we do with “Amos ‘n Andy” now. 

Recently I have come to question my own hypothesis.  I have recently started to wonder if the political black-mark on this generation won’t be using “gay” as a code-word for less (as bad as that is) but instead forcing black actors into a fat suit and a dress to open a movie.

Eddie Murphy: “The Klumps”, “Norbit” (et al(?)  I’m asuming there are more)

Martin Lawrence:  The “Big Momma’s House” series

Tracy Jordan:  “Fat Bitch”

Tyler Perry:  Career

Of course white stars/actors have donned fat-suits for rolls.  No less luminaries than A-Lister Brad Pitt (Friends) or Oscar winner Gwenyth Paltrow (“Shallow Hal”) or even Vince Vaughn (everything since “Swingers” (What?)).  The difference being that while some white stars have chosen to don the fat-suit other have opted not to…and still have careers.

Will Smith is a product of the ’90’s.  Denzel has been working since Bush’s father  was in office.  Who was the last black movie star (movie star, not rapper crossing over) who has had a big movie without playing a over-weight woman?  

A more cogent example may be that of Chris Rock.  Arguably the funniest person on the planet for the better part of this decade (inarguably in the conversation as such) and yet his movie track-record is horrendous.  Movies he writes, movies he doesn’t write.  Movies he directs, movies he doesn’t direct.  Is it possible that my kid is going to think of Chris Rock as the bust from “Head of State” the way I once thought of Richard Pryor as the catcher from “Brewster’s Millions”?

So now the question becomes; Who is seeing these movies?  Apparently the Tyler Perry movies are for middle-class African Americans.  So I’m told and so I believe.I live in the Northeast, our knowledge of Tyler Perry movies is about as expansive as my knowledge of NASCAR.  But one has to wonder if the principle ticket-buyers for these movies aren’t, in fact, white people who want nothing more than to watch a wealthy black man stumble around in a girdle and high heels for an hour and a half.  

Are these movies (and other movies in this millieu) a fair representation of what black comedians/actors have to offer?  Or is merely a refection of what the studio system will fund?  Or is it just a modern day minstrel show?

I hope not.  I hope not.  And I hope not.

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My Favorite Type-o

Generally, I proofread every email I send out, whether it be at work or personal in nature.  Spell check cannot be relied upon.  Most of the time I catch everything, but no one is perfect.  I’ve just looked back on an email I sent (work-related, which makes it even better) and realized that rather than typing “Hello Jon,” I typed “Hell Jon,” instead. 

It’s kind of fun that the letter “o” (or lack thereof) can turn a somewhat formal and cordial greeting into an aggressive statement of profanity. I’m almost wishing there was an “!”  instead of a “,” to add to the effect.

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Everyone loves lists

So I’m totally stealing this idea from these guys, but I looked at it like it would be an interesting exercize of what I enjoyed and still carry with me today.  The first ten are in order the other 40 are just as the titles came to me.  I’m sure I missed something and I reserve the right to go in and add notes later but Pedro (the best Red Sox of my lifetime) is pitching in the Bronx tonight so, here goes:

1).  City of God
2).  Brick

3).  The Departed
4). Once
5).  Amelie
6).  Lost in Translation
7).  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
8).  Super Troopers
9).  Memento
10). The Wrestler

The Royal Tennebaums
Kiss, Kiss.  Bang, Bang
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Sexy Beast
The Ring
The Road to Perdition
Red Dragon
Gangs of New York
25th Hour
Finding Nemo
Mystic River
Gone, Baby Gone
Kill Bill (1&2)
Old School
LotR (trilogy)
School of Rock
Love Actually
Green Street
28 Days Later
Slumdog Millionaire
The Incredibles
Garden State
Lucky Number Slevin
Wedding Crashers
The 40-year-old Virgin
Match Point
The Prestige
Stranger than Fiction
Pan’s Labyrinth
Children of Men
The Descent
Batman Begins
No Country for Old Men
Michael Clayton
The Hangover
Sunshine Cleaning
The Ice Harvest
Man on Wire

And, yes, I love Super Troopers!

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Let’s say that you were to allocate me an hour with which I could entertain myself.  Very little of this hour would be spent with music.  If I were able to make a pie chart my preference of entertainment would be as follows:

Movies: 30 minutes

Reading: 20 minutes

TV: 4 minutes

Music: 1 minute

Obviously this doesn’t make any sense (who would watch 5 minutes of TV?)  Consider it pro-rated across a week or month or whatever.   But it is the best way for me to illustrate that music is not a medium of expression that I get and/or gets to me.   For every one good song they play on the radio you have to suffer through 20 awful ones.  And usually the same ratio proves true for songs on CDs you buy (Gob bless downloads).

I own about 10 CDs and I haven’t purchased one in about 5 years (a bunch of Dylan, a few Lyle Lovett, one Republic of Loose, Pete Yorn (Addendum: is Pete Yorn duetting with Scarlett Johansson for commerical appeal reverse-analogous to Mandy Moore marrying Ryan Adams for indie credibility?).  

For about a year now I have had one CD in my car and that is pretty much all I listen to:

Failer by Kathleen Edwards

I have spoken in this space before about “knowing” the people portrayed in certain movies, well this is the exact opposite.  The characters of whom Ms. Edwards sings are wholly unfamiliar and the type of women I would like to meet.  Put it this way; when I first heard the album I put it on a loop and wrote a screenplay that could use it as a sound-track.

Hard-drinking, tough-talking losers.  Think about how novel that is in this post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer world.  Every cultural portrayal of a women is like some sort of Barbie fantasy.  That women can, do and must have it all.  But some don’t (men, too), some of us were meant to fail and/or compromise.  Some of us are “thinking about drinking half-way through the day” or get knock-up by the boy who’s face is all over the six o’clock news or even (heart-breakingly) can’t skate backwards.

It was Halloween yesterday, do you realize how many girls came to my door dressed as Princess?  At least with boys the costumes were equally distributed between superheroes (Spider-man) and civil servants (fire fighters).  With the girls it is all Princesses.   These girls would be well-served mixing a bit of Ms. Edwards with the Disney propaganda.

I feel like I have a lot more to say about this album (it’s great start to finish, with the exception of one song that may or may not be about a wolf) but again, I don’t have a grasp of the effects music has on me.  Sufficed to say that if I had a forum (like this) in which I could talk to people (like you) about things that have impacted me–one of those things would be Failer by Kathleen Edwards.

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