Category Archives: Friday finds

Friday finds

Anthony Burgess once said he would have preferred to be thought of as a musician who wrote novels, rather than a novelist who wrote music on the side. This interview with composer-conductor Paul Phillips includes samples of the late author’s symphonic and choral works, and touches on Burgess’ use of musical structures in his novels: e.g., A Clockwork Orange was patterned on the sonata form. It’s all interesting enough to make me hope Phillips’ book about Burgess and his music, A Clockwork Counterpoint, comes out in a much less pricey format.

What’s a nice waterfront property in Iceland going for these days?

A meditation on the wonder of the guitar, sparked by current shows at both the Met and MoMA.

Allison Flood goes forward in time to critique an unreleased and (by her) unread Stephen King novel about going back in time.

Frederik Pohl remembers Ian and Betty Ballantine, the couple who turned Ballantine Books into a paperback publishing giant.

For the day after St. Patrick’s Day, a brief animated biography of the man of the hour.

Brian Malow talks about Hollywood’s intensifying love affair with the works of Philip K. Dick. At the risk of sounding repetitious, I still think Christopher Nolan’s Memento is the film that comes closest to capturing PKD’s tone, even if it isn’t based on one of his stories.

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Friday finds

Adventures in the book-jacket design trade, such as this very cool image for Richard Montanari’s The Echo Man. Other examples here.

What do you do with a sleeping baby? Why, build fantasy worlds around her, of course.

Author and blogger Tobias Buckell considers the problem of pirated e-books and concludes that maybe the problem isn’t that much of a problem.

For you Philip K. Dick fans, here’s an illustrated list of places mentioned in the man’s mainstream novel, Confessions of a Crap Artist.

Martin Amis says he would only write a book for children if he had suffered some kind of brain injury. This from the man who wrote the script for Saturn 3.

International politics and zombies.

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Friday finds

NASA lists the seven most absurd science fiction movies of all time, as well as the seven most plausible. Can’t argue with the ridiculous roster — anything with Roland Emmerich’s name on it is a lock for such a list — but the plausible list is puzzling. There’s no sign of 2001: A Space Odyssey — was it really less believable than The Thing From Another World, or The Day The Earth Stood Still?

How Michael Chabon handled the n-word while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his kids.

Timothy Donnelly lists six contemporary poets you ought to check out.

Three rediscovered stories by Zora Neale Hurston.

Roger Ebert lists the best documentaries of 2010.

“. . . if I had a choice between a more civil discourse and a more honest one, I’d pick honesty every time. The reason that hundreds of angry people came to town hall meetings in my Congressional district in 2009, and the reason that police had to be present where they had never been before, wasn’t because someone was ‘uncivil.’ It was because their media heroes and party leaders told them a pack of lies about death panels, federal funding for abortions, Medicare being taken away and free insurance for illegal immigrants. The questions that my Congressman took at those hate-filled meetings weren’t reasonable queries about limited government, deficits and healthcare outcomes. They were questions about why he wanted to kill grandma, let the government pay to abort babies, and take away Medicare.”

Friday finds

I am seriously pumped to see the Coen Bros. adaptation of True Grit, and this advance review confirms my hunch that the Coens are simpatico with the work of Charles Portis, one of the greats of American literature. But while I’m at it, and since this movie has “Oscar bait” written all over it, let me propose a drinking game for the next Academy Awards broadcast. When True Grit bags a golden guy, have one person take a shot whenever Charles Portis gets mentioned in the thank-you speech, and have another person take a shot whenever somebody gives a shout-out to John Wayne, who starred in the first, barely adequate film version. Judging from the way the Coens handled things a couple of years ago, I expect one guest will be dry as a bone at the end of the night while the other is comatose.

If you think the treatment endured by Bradley Manning is shocking, read Zeitoun by David Eggers and learn that not only can it happen here — it’s been happening for a while.

Frederik Pohl reminisces about Cordwainer Smith here and here.

Crustypunks? New one on me.

So you want to be a freelance writer?

Author and translator Damion Searls talks about Rainer Maria Rilke.

But the entire time I was watching the last two-thirds of the film, I could not get out of my head the fact that the foundation, the groundwork, had been so thoroughly botched that if the film had been re-contextualized as a house, it would’ve been leaning heavily to one side, with the bricks falling to the ground and the roof sliding half-off.”

Some drunks are brawlers and some drunks are bawlers. I guess we know which category goes for John Boehner.

Animation Backgrounds is film geekery at its finest: a blog devoted to the backdrops of animated films. If you think that sounds dull, check out this breakdown of the lush, detail-crammed backdrops from Who Framed Roger Rabbit and yawn no more.

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Friday finds

Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson — the college cartoonist years.

What stop-motion Rankin/Bass holiday specials have to tell us about monetary policy.

Nick considers the music he’d like to have played at his funeral. My own list is less extensive: Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand” and “Louange a L’Eternitie de Jesus” from Messaien’s Quartet for the End of Time.  Maybe take a page from The Wire and play “Body of an American” afterward. but that’s about it.

Angelology, Gutzon Borglum, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

What’s your pick for the best film version of an Elmore Leonard novel? There are more of them out there than you might think.

Thou shalt not send schmucks to review stage adaptations of Philip K. Dick novels.

Now it can be told: Why Mexican potatoes are so lousy.

We can all agree that John Cleese is a creative person — right? So pour some coffee and listen to the man talk about creativity. “Boundaries of space, boundaries of time. It’s as simple as that.”

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Friday finds

Doonesbury stays as timely as ever, doesn’t it? Back then, it was the stem cells keeping Dubya awake; now it’s Kanye West, but the creepy disassociation from reality remains the same, and Garry Trudeau nailed it. For a comic strip to have been so consistently good while remaining surprising and unpredictable is amazing, and this appreciation by Garry Wills gets at all the reasons why.

Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam — he’s still a theocratic creep.

Before you send out that fantasy manuscript, run it past this Fantasy Novelist’s Exam.

Allen Barra correctly praises Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove as the great American Western, and correctly downgrades the overrated Cormac McCarthy and Blood Meridian. But what about John Williams and Butcher’s Crossing?  What about Frederick Manfred and the “Buckskin Man” cycle? I’ll take Lord Grizzly or Conquering Horse over Ghost Town or Welcome to Hard Times.

This is sick.

Wanna hear Gilgamesh read in Babylonian? Here you go.

Podcast alert! An excellent conversation with Noam Chomsky, the American Socrates. From fanboy to filmmaker: a talk with Joe Dante, director of The Howling, Gremlins, and The Hole. The natural history of the unicorn.

The 100 Greatest Horror Movie Quotes, as compiled by Harry Hanrahan. I was pleased to see my favorite lines from Hellraiser, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And The Haunting — classy! All that’s missing is the conversation between Herbert West and Dr. Hill’s head in Re-Animator.

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Friday finds

“His trailer was filled with strange memorabilia. In one corner he had a poster of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and there was a shrine built and a candle burning in front of it. When I walked in, I shrank back and I thought, ‘Oh, get yourself out of here. Stay out. Stay away from the man.‘”

Joseph Conrad, Dorothy Lamour, and Lord Jim.

John Grisham and day jobs.

Grad students in The Simpsons.

Making sense of the Black Panthers and their legacy.

Take the Guardian’s Ray Bradbury quiz.

“Here is why jazz players love the blues: it is the perfect box to break out of, the most restrictive of musical forms. A composer of Gregorian chant had more freedom than someone trying to write a blues . . . Performing is another matter. In traditional blues songs there are gaps for improvisation after every line (the singer says ‘I bought me a coffee grinder, the best one I could find’ and the player has two bars in which to improvise a response—one which will probably indicate that she’s not really talking about coffee) and in a jazz performance the song provides the framework for any number of improvised solos. This reveals the secret of jazz performance: First, construct a box. Second, break out of it. In so doing the musician enacts a moment of liberation.”

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Friday finds

Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling sat down in 1970 with author and academic James Gunn as part of Gunn’s series “Science Fiction in Literature.” This footage, never released, was recently re-synched with an audio track. The results are technically highly variable, but the content is fascinating to anyone interested in Serling’s work or science fiction in general. I particularly appreciate Serling’s avowed respect for the SF genre, all the more striking for the fact that the interview took place well before science fiction was considered respectable by most critics — or commercially viable by Hollywood. Contrast Serling’s name-checking of recognized SF authors with the pretentious evasions of a certain filmmaker who made immense amounts of money strip-mining the work of his betters.

Thomas Ricks lists the best books about George Waterboard Bush’s excellent Iraqi adventure. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is the only one I’ve heard of, much less read.

Cage match! The Big Chill vs. Return of the Secaucus Seven.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness adapted as a graphic novel.

Attention, Kurt Vonnegut fans! In response to my post about the 1972 broadcast of Between Time and Timbuktu, a friend scouted out the complete show on Tudou. I’ll have to see if the decades have been kind to it.

North Wind, a journal devoted to the study of pioneering fantasy author George MacDonald, has put its entire archive online. Tolkien fans may be interested in Jason Fisher’s essay (PDF) on MacDonald’s influence on the Don’s early writings, and how he eventually fell out of favor with Tolkien.

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Friday finds

Ain’t It Cool News has been running behind-the-scenes photos from well-known movies, including this snap of Dustin Hoffman testing the patience of Laurence Olivier on the set of Marathon Man. If you’ve read William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, you know Hoffman was more than a bit of a dick with Olivier, playing method-acting-young-turk to Olivier’s old school Shakespearean eminence grise. The most cringe-inducing moment came when Hoffman badgered Olivier into a round of character improv, which the ailing lion endured despite very obvious pain and discomfort. Olivier got his own back during the filming of the famous Nazi dentistry scene, which Hoffman prepared for by going without sleep for days, arriving on the set looking so strung-out that Olivier, in his best stage legend voice, said, “Dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”

Now here is a reason to visit Asbury Park!

Uchenna Ikonne,who blogs about African pop music at With Comb & Razor, was just interviewed by Public Radio International. Give it a listen.

Time to check in with James Lee Burke.

Ray Bradbury’s a little old to follow through on this, but I’m sure he appreciates the thought.

“Hitchens’ remarks on the passing of Jerry Falwell were on the mark. Interviewed during a CNN obituary of Falwell, Hitchens brought a sharp turn in the program’s tone: ‘The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God’s punishment — if they hadn’t got some kind of clerical qualification?’

I’ve read quite a few remembrances of actress Patricia Neal since her recent death at 84, but this one at The Sheila Variations is far and away the best. She rightly gives pride of place to the earthy, world-weary sensuality of Neal’s performances as Alma Brown in Hud. Playing against Paul Newman at his studliest and Melvyn Douglas at his flintiest, Neal did more than hold her own: She made Alma the true moral counterforce to Hud’s greed and selfishness, as opposed to the father’s inflexible moral rectitude. Good, thoughtful arts writing isn’t dead — it was exiled to the Internets by newspapers and magazines.

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Friday finds

Obviously! The folks at Hammer Films sure knew how to blow the dust off those old horror movie tropes, and Titan Books is gearing up to release a collection of the best examples in The Art of Hammer, due out in October. Along with eye-catching posters, Hammer produced some memorable taglines: e.g., “Frankenstein spills it! Dracula drinks it!” I wouldn’t mind getting the book, but where Hammer is concerned, what I’m really jonesing for is The Icons of Suspense Collection, if only for the chance to catch up with These Are the Damned, a 1963 Joseph Losey film that starts as an eccentric drama about Teddy Boys in a seaside town, then veers into memorable science-fiction terrain. I saw a butchered version decades ago on late-night television, and those voices crying along the cliff struck a deep chord.

I like Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf a lot more than Jeff does, but Jeff’s right when he tries to bring other, possibly even better translations out from under Heaney’s shadow.

The five weariest cliches of negative book reviews.

One of “the world’s most endearingly odd publishing houses.”

The story of Mad Dog and the Pilgrim, and the best place in Wyoming to find old books and fresh eggs.

For sheer sustained pop dementia, this Rajinikanth number is hard to beat. If the hero from Inception had been assigned to infiltrate Michael Jackson’s dreams and plant the idea of doing a Bollywood musical, this would have been the result.

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