Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Assume This is Meant to be Ironic

As boring as writers writing on writing can be, essays bemoaning them are worse.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders to go Bye Bye

I have mixed feeling about this. While I’m inclined to blame the slow-to-catch-up publishing industry, big chain bookstores themselves have made some blunders that have contributed to their epic fail. Part of me hopes this will make more room for the brick and mortar/mom-n-pop stores of old that have decreased significantly in the last, oh, fifteen years thanks to places like Borders (and Amazon, I know). Sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen.

So while Borders represented what was wrong with our big big big consumerist culture, I was never opposed to Borders or Barnes and Noble. I lamented that these mega stores meant shrinking indie shops, but I was thrilled to know that lots of books were within reach. And I would have killed for a place like Borders in my suburb when I was growing up. Sadly, I was forced to make do with Waldenbooks. I didn’t even have the internet to fall back on.

Speaking of the internet: are they to blame? Perhaps, but I’m also happy to live in an era where I can easily research authors I might never have heard of by patronizing Borders. Even in their heyday I might not have discovered Dubravka Ugresic or Raul Zurita by wandering through a mega store’s shelves. So I’m not about to blast the net either. American provincialism? Maybe. The demands of commerce and the reality of consumer tastes? Okay, a litte. Whatever the reason, Borders is on its way out and that, frankly, makes me a little sad. I always try to hit the Seminary Coop or some of the few used shops left, but it looks like I’ll have to depend more on the internet than I’d like to for my books.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gaga Bites on the Divine Ms. M.

In response to Midler’s claim, Lady Gaga said that she has never stolen anything from another artist’s act, proof of which will be evident when her new single “Breeze Beneath My Flapping, Feathered Arms” drops in anticipation of her first feature film Sandy Places Near Water.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Elasticity of Genius

Today at the office I heard someone use the word genius to describe Cee Lo Green. For the record, I have no problem with Mr. Green, or Gnarls Barkley for that matter. But genius? C’mon.

I asked for specific reasons why Cee Lo can be called a genius. They were:

1. He is doing a retro thing no one else is doing (to which I replied: So he’s a genius for recycling?);

2. He is a great showman (to which I replied: So every good front-man in a musical act is a genius? Robert Plant, Perry Ferrell, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Johnny Rotten? That’s a lot of geniuses);

3. He writes good music (okay, maybe this might qualify a person for some praise, but genius? Really? Next thing you know they’ll be calling Katy Perry a genius because she wrote a song that is, sadly, catchy).

To me a genius is someone who can do what no other person in their field, or, heck, no other person on earth, can do. A high IQ is not enough. One of my oldest friends has a high IQ and can’t get his shit together. I’d hardly call him a genius. No, genius is earned and Cee Lo has not earned that title.

I have a few heroes, musical and otherwise, I might call geniuses. And I suppose this is all relative and subjective, but I feel my evidence might trump the sorry three reasons listed above. My real beef is with the way people abuse words. Genius is meant to suggest a type of rare brilliance that the average person does not possess. Geniuses have minds from which we as a society benefit (or, in the case of evil geniuses, suffer) because their contributions literally change the world. It’s okay to call Cee Lo Green or Bob Dylan good songwriters or good performers or even talented. If they split the atom, then call them geniuses. In the meantime, lay off the stretching of this word. Words have meanings and abusing them robs them of their power. The more we misapply the term genius the more the actual geniuses will remain underappreciated.

Read Along With Me: The Twelve Chairs

Once again, a book I am going to start reading is available online. Feel free to read along. For some quick context, go here, though the entry fails to detail exactly how important this book, and its sequel, was to Soviet life and how it continues to be the go-to book for generations of Russians. Mel Brooks even made a film version. Now that's cross-cultural!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Master & Margarita Website

I just found this website all about The Master and Margarita. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me go on about this book before, how it is perhaps the finest novel I’ve ever read, certainly my favorite (though in a tie with three others), and how you should read it, blah blah blah. Well, not blah blah blah if you give a fig about good literature.

Anyway, the site is packed with lots of goodies, including this nugget of news that an American film version is in the works (though who knows if it’ll get off the ground). While the idea intrigues me, I have to admit to being torn. I know there are European films already in existence, but I’ve never felt compelled to see them. After all, one of my other “favorite books of all time” was famously made into a total disaster of a movie.

But back to the site.

What else will you find? A chapter by chapter guide, art work, essays, interpretations, and objections by the anti-Bulgakov philistines— I mean religious orthodox readers (who, apparently, lack proper analytical skills). Overall, it’s a pretty good site that has me thinking… maybe it’s time I reread this marvelous novel. After all, the third time I read it was when its genius really started to kick in for me. Fourth time’s a charm!

Directors Who Should Retire

As far as I’m concerned, Kevin Smith retired form filmmaking a long time ago. The only post Chasing Amy film of his I’ve really liked is Jersey Girl. That’s right, Jersey Girl. It was a schmaltzy and featured a cute little girl charming her way (or trying to) into viewer’s hearts, but hey, it was better than Dogma, Zack & Miri Make a Porno, and whatever the fuck else he’s shit out lately (something with Bruce Willis, I think… looked like ass). So the recent news that he is (or is he?) retiring from filmmaking is really not too shocking. I never took him seriously as a filmmaker, but I doubt he did either. So why not retire? I applaud him going out with whatever dignity he has left.

That said, this list of other directors who ought to call it quits raises some interesting points. Really, Smith’s movies are innocent of not being too serious or demanding, thus the viewer knows what to expect: 90 minutes of dick jokes. Don’t complain about them if that isn’t your cup of tea. Now, going to see a Scorsese film these days is indeed a crap shoot, and so long as he is the Martin Scorsese some of us who remember what the man was capable of as far into his career as the 90s might hold some hope that he’ll return to form. We get our hearts broken a lot. Sniff.

My own list would include Quentin Tarantino. I’ve not liked anything since Pulp Fiction (which has aged badly) though Jackie Brown was pretty good, I think (forgettable movie that one). Kill Bill has its ups and downs. It might have been a good single feature but stretched over two separate releases it suffers from its excess and unforgivable anticlimax. On that note Inglourious Bastards sinks from its self-importance made all the worse by the scores of critics who decided to plop the thing up to higher than deserved ranks. Guys, the more you do that the more you make Mr. T. think he is doing important work. Stop.

Also on the list would be M. Night Shyamalan. He made Unbreakable, which I loved, and Signs, which I liked a lot, but otherwise… nothing. The rest is dross at best, often laughable, hardly scary or even interesting. He had something to do with Devil, a movie I quite enjoyed, so maybe he ought to stick to whatever role he had with that film (producer? story idea?) and let better filmmakers take the reins.

Clearly there are others, but I'm going to stop here as this list cvould go on indefinitely.

Friday, July 01, 2011

What I Drove Through Last Night

“…there is no freedom but that we give ourselves.”

An Open Letter to Mohamed Bouazizim the Tunisian who lit himself on fire and quite literary sparked a revolution that has engulfed much of North African and the Middle East. Words Without Borders is devoting the next two months to literature of the Arab Spring. Check it out.