Monthly Archives: July 2010

Friday finds

You think Stieg Larsson is hot stuff? You think Nordic Noir started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Meet Maj Sjowall, who with her partner Per Wahloo stood the field of crime fiction on its collective ear with their 10-novel cycle about Martin Beck and his colleagues (one named Larsson, curious coincidence) in the Stockholm National Homicide Department. The novels were police procedurals that stood comparison with Ed McBain. The series is probably best known in this country for the fourth novel, The Laughing Policeman, which was made into a pretty decent Walter Matthau flick, albeit with the setting changed from Stockholm to San Francisco.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Ray Bradbury. Well . . . not quite ten. I didn’t know Bradbury befriended Ernest Hemingway’s son. (I wonder what he thought of “The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone?”) I also didn’t know he had turned down a shot at writing the script for The Birds. Considering Evan Hunter’s experience on that flick, Bradbury should probably thank his lucky stars he didn’t take the job.

Greetings from the Humungus! The LORD Humungus! The warrior of the wasteland! The ayatollah of rock and rollah!

Lance M. endorses this message, and so do I.

Edward Said meets Jean-Paul Sartre.

Graham Greene is fascinating all by himself, but it turns out his relatives were every bit as interesting.

Self-publish or perish: the new digital imperative.

I just realized that instead of having a gun rack in my car, I had three different swords in the back over the weekend. While I could claim I’m prepared for the zombie apocalypse, it probably signifies some weird sort of medievalist redneck.”

The writer who is always wrong.

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Pass the popcorn

This is going to be more fun than a Newt Gingrich presidential run and a Sarah Palin talk show rolled into one. Shirley Sherrod, who was forced out of her government job after Internet smear merchant Andrew Breitbart posted a maliciously edited video of her speaking to the NAACP, is going to sue the little scumball.

What makes this so much entertainment potential is that Breitbart, acting with the arrogant stupidity that has become the hallmark of most high-profile wingnuts, has effectively convicted himself of defaming Sherrod in his numerous media appearances since he posted the clip on his Big Government site. A five minute tour of video clips will give even a marginally competent lawyer all the ammo he needs to clean Breitbart’s clock.

I hope Sherrod also goes after FoxNoise, which had a field day with the edited clip. It would be naive to think that any court judgment will significantly impair the finances of either Breitbart or his fellow sleazesters — there are plenty of Daddy Wingbucks types ready to write checks — but it would be good to see a change in the consequence-free environment these hacks have enjoyed up to now.

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Super-Geeks vs. The Pellagra People

You’ve all heard of Fred Phelps and his merry band from the Meth-Cooking Chromosome-Damaged Church of the Testors-Huffing KrazeeKhrist — aka, the Westboro Baptist Church — and their penchant for showing up at funerals and other occasions with placards announcing GOD HATES FAGS and similarly charming messages.

Well, the whole hookworm-infested clan showed up at Comic-Con to stage one of their hatenannies. Call it Invasion of the Pellagra People. Only the geeks were ready, and the geeks punked them. Read about it here.

Bill who?

So I finally read Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Yeah, call me Mr. Cutting Edge. I have no time to read — I’m too busy running a bookstore. Go figure.

So how was it? Pretty good stuff, thanks mainly to its two very interesting lead characters. Just as Peter Hoeg gives us a look at the underside of life in Denmark, Larsson’s journalist-eye view of Swedish society is bracing and sometimes startling. The accumulation of plot twists becomes preposterous towards the end, but that’s nothing unusual in this genre. I look forward to reading the next two books when I take some time off in August. I’ve also scored a copy of the DVD for the bookstore collection, and I’ll want to see that soon as well.

What I didn’t expect from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the number of times it would ring my nostalgia bells. Like a lot of people, I grew up with Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking stories, but I also sought out her other books: Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, the Bullerby kids, and above all the dark-toned children’s fantasy The Brothers Lionheart, which for my money puts the entire Narnia series completely in the shade. Astrid Lindgren (pictured above) was a prolific writer, and her other works deserve to be as well known as the Pippi books.

I’m hoping the success of Steig Larsson’s trilogy brings on a revival of Lindgren’s very enjoyable series about the boy detective Kalle Blomkvist. Larsson’s protagonist is an investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who is frequently teased with the name Kalle by his enemies. That added an unexpected note to my enjoyment of the story.

Lindgren wrote three Kalle Blomkvist novels in the late Forties and early Fifties. They were translated into English, but Kalle never quite caught hold the way Pippi did, and the books are long out of print. They aren’t hard to find, though, and prices are usually pretty reasonable.

The only problem is that somebody thought Kalle Blomkvist’s name was too hard to pronounce for American readers, and so the boy detective was given the unfortunate moniker Bill Bergson, which lies on the page like a serving of old lutefisk.

But I’ll settle for a revival under the Bergson name, so long as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo inspires renewed appreciation for the creator of the girl with the outrageous pigtails.

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That is one friendly porcupine

Of course, I still wouldn’t want to pet it without those heavy canvas gloves.

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Shake, rattle, and roll

All the chuckling and eye-rolling over the earthquake in the D.C. area — “You call that a quake? Come on!” — brings to mind the strongest (and so far only) temblor I’ve experienced. It was about seven years ago in Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, hard up against the Tian Shan mountain range. On the plus side, that makes ski trips a breeze, and gives you scenery to rival the Swiss Alps. On the debit side, the mountains are so close that there are actually avalanche barriers just outside Almaty.

It was December and brutally cold, and since few residents of the city believed in shoveling their walks, everything was locked in rock-hard, dirty ice and hard-packed frozen snow. Almaty is supposed to be a beautiful garden city in the spring and summer, but in the winter it is one ugly town.

The woman warrior and I were staying in an apartment in one of the city’s Soviet-vintage concrete towers. Just before dawn, I was sitting in the living room when the chandelier made a little tinkling sound, the way ripples in a puddle announce the approach of a T-Rex in one of the Jurassic Park movies. You know, I thought to myself, that could be the start of an earthquake, and just as I thought “earthquake” the entire building started lurching from side to side. It will give you some idea of the kind of trip it was that my only reaction to practically being thrown out of my chair was to think, Of course, an earthquake. Now I’ve seen everything.

The Woman Warrior, who was born in California and knows about these things, raced into the living room and cried, “That was an earthquake!” There was then the question of What to Do Next. We were barefoot and wearing only light sleeping clothes, and it was pretty freaking cold outside. But the building was pretty shabby looking, and to our untutored eyes looked like something that would collapse after a good hard push, much less an earthquake.

But when we looked out the windows, nobody was outside. After a whole, we went back to bed. When in Rome, do as the Romans do — or, in this case, don’t. “We get a couple of those a year,” one of the locals told us later on. I can only admire that kind of savoir faire.

Friday finds

Flowing Data digs up a 1927 map, prepared by Paramount Studios for potential investors, showing all the places in the world that could be faked by using easily accessible California locations. Which is how Holland winds up on the shore of Long Island Sound, and South Africa is a short drive from both Sherwood Forest and the Red Sea.

Do you write like Vladimir Nabokov? John Updike? Stephen King? H.P. Lovecraft? Find out here.

Eulogizing the one-of-a-kind Harvey Pekar. Jeet Heer identifies his roots in the same working-class Jewish radicalism that nourished Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Scott McLemee salutes his influence on other curmudgeons.

iPod therefore I am: Christopher Lydon interviews Harvey Cohen, author of the great new biography of Duke Ellington.

Why 2004 is the year four of America’s largest newspapers lost their moral bearings.

The Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow is coming to my area next month. Two of the screening locations are a little too obvious — the first three Rocky flicks at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, On the Waterfront on the Hoboken waterfront — but seeing The Godfather Part II in what remains of Little Italy sounds cool. What I’d really like to see is There Will Be Blood in the Kern County Museum, right under the oil derrick that inspired some key scenes in the movie.

Caffeine doesn’t do what you think it does.

“When I look back at the science-fiction magazines of the twenties and the early thirties, the ones that hooked me on sf, I sometimes wonder just what it was we all found in them to shape our lives around. I think there were two things. One is that science fiction was a way out of a bad place; the other, that it was a window on a better one.”

A solar eclipse over Easter Island. All that’s missing is a Pink Floyd soundtrack. An underwater forest in a frozen Kazakhstan lake. Soundtrack by Popol Vuh, perhaps?

Robert Silverberg on the financial realities of the full-time novelist.

During its three decades as a prison, Alcatraz Island saw 14 attempts to escape involving a total of 36 prisoners. One attempt in June 1962 (the basis for a pretty good Clint Eastwood movie) may have succeeded, but the few inmates who reached the water probably drowned in the icy waters of San Francisco Bay.  Try your luck on the Alcatraz Swim-O-Meter.

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Writing advice

From Driftglass via LitBrit comes this tidbit of advice:

However based on the sage advice I recently received from the Heads of the Blogosphere Mafia (and the fact that there no are Liberal equivalents to wingnut homunculi like Mary Matalin dug in like ticks at Major Publishing Houses and eager to forcibly animate into Best Sellerdom any offal scraped from the Conservative blogger midden pile) I have come to understand that if my as-yet nonexistent and wholly theoretical book is to stand any chance of being anything other than a labor-intensive, money-losing timesuck, it absolutely, positively has to include vampires.

Maybe it’s the gloomy Nordic strain in my DNA profile, but I always like a bleak chuckle at the start of a day, especially when I’m working on a book proposal. I also love the jokes in Grettir’s Saga.

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Mark Twain on interviews

I don’t entirely agree with this rediscovered Mark Twain piece about journalistic interviews, but it made me sit back and laugh anyway:

No one likes to be interviewed, and yet no one likes to say no; for interviewers are courteous and gentle-mannered, even when they come to destroy. I must not be understood to mean that they ever come consciously to destroy or are aware afterward that they have destroyed; no, I think their attitude is more that of the cyclone, which comes with the gracious purpose of cooling off a sweltering village, and is not aware, afterward, that it has done that village anything but a favor. The interviewer scatters you all over creation, but he does not conceive that you can look upon that as a disadvantage. People who blame a cyclone, do it because they do not reflect that compact masses are not a cyclone’s idea of symmetry.

Personally, I’ve always found the best interviews were more like conversations than interviews. The worst interviews were with people who thought they could call all the shots on every aspect of the encounter and how it would be written. I guess they thought they could invite the cyclone into their homes and tell it where to go, then became upset when it didn’t work out that way.

Looking back on a couple of decades of journalistic work, I can say there are a few people I spoke with who might have felt they’d been visited by a cyclone. I can also say they needed the aggravation.

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