Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Having a moment of clarity

After my righteous anger riff at City Lights yesterday,I forced myself to become Bruce Banner again(Little Sister always compares me to the Incredible Hulk when I get steamed up about something)and sent an e-mail to BookSeller Chick about the entire mess to get her take on it. Not only was she nice enough to read my blog but she took up the issue herself(you can check it out thru the title link above)and gave me a link,too.

I found BSC's blog via Miss Snark(Supreme Queen of the Literary Agent Scene)and have really enjoyed hearing someone speak openly and honestly about life on the sales floor,not to mention her love of reading. I always felt too nervous about talking about my job,plus I didn't want to make this blog a bitchfest(that's why LiveJournal has a place in the universe-joke,I swear!). BSC has shown me that you can take the good,take the bad and put it into clear and clever perspective without any bitter aftertaste.

I also learned from her post today(according to a story told to her by a customer)that Powells,one of the biggest indie bookstores in the U.S.,has a "Kooks" section where books by Ann Coulter are shelved.*Sigh*Too sad for words. My hope here is that some of this being brought to light will open up some dialogue between book sellers and readers to agree to disagree and share our mutual love of the written word. A couple of posters have mentioned that this is not the same as keeping books out of a library and my response is this:

I feel that a general bookstore(this doesn't let a speciality store off the good manners hook,btw)is like a defense attorney when it comes to controversal books. You are obiligated to give your clients the best representation that you can provide and you should properly advise someone if you're unable to assist them fully. Your store can chose not to stock certain authors but if someone wants you to get that book for them and you're able to do so,why shouldn't they expect the same service you'ld give to a guy or gal wanting to get a book by one of your favorite writers?

If you can't get it,atleast advise them where they can and keep your personal opinions about it to yourself. I remember one time at my old job,when one of my co-workers rang up a travel guide to Israel for a woman and her young daughter and this co-worker actually said to the woman"Oh,you shouldn't be going there,it's so dangerous!" A lady browsing thru the greeting cards nearby took her to task for that,saying how she herself felt safer in Jerusalem than on the streets of New York.

My co-worker(not one of my favorite people in the world)actually thought she wasn't doing anything wrong,since there were alot of current news stories about violence in Israel at the time. It was wrong,just as bad as saying"we don't carry books by facists"-yes,the sale was made but what gives anyone the right to tell others what they should think or do based on their own limited viewpoint of the world? That's why we're a democracy,folks-freedom of speech and thought aren't just cool catchphrases.

So,do check out BSC,not just on this particular issue but to get some reading recommendations and a few good laughs(which is also needed in crazy times like these).

Monday, February 27, 2006

I feel a Jules Winfield moment coming on

I was planning on discussing ComicCon this morning(which I will later this week and,yes,there will be pictures)but this story I read at GalleyCat made me so furious that I had to deal with it first:according to an essay in the LA Times(that is linked in the title above),a customer went into the City Lights Bookstore in San Fran and asked a clerk if they had Oriana Fallaci's Force Of Reason in stock. The clerk's response was "No,we don't carry books by facists."

One thing that bothers me about me is the open elitism of that statement-I don't read politcal books(mainly because the whole subject bores me and many times,it's just like listening to a one sided argument)but I was taught that it's not right to insult other people's tastes just because they don't fit in with yours. From what I gathered from the article,Fallaci's book criticizes the radical side of Islam which doesn't sound facist to me but even if it was,it's totally outrageous to also say to a customer"You're welcome to buy her book elsewhere,through...Let's just say we don't have room for her here." I'm qouting directly from the Catherine Seipp article here.

What really pisses me off is that I know this actually happened without ever having been to City Lights or anywhere near the West Coast. How do I know? Because the same kind of attitude is on the East Coast,too. A dirty little open secret about many independant bookstores is their political views on display ,not only with the folks working there but in the stock on the shelves. Not all stores openly do this nor am I against any bookseller expressing freedom of speech but when you alienate people with your own viewpoints in a business situation,I think that's just wrong.

For example,at the bookstore I worked at,we sold Bush Cards(both series)and at one time,Axis of Evil puppets. Axis of Evil Puppets are made by a small company and came out awhile after 9/11. They're finger puppets of Saddam Hussein,Kim Jong Il,Komeini and G.W. Bush(the set's been updated since then). We also had a display of political books that were mainly Democrat/liberal with a sign by one of my co-workers that said"We here at So and So love a good bloody debate-draw your swords!". One of my other co-workers late amended that sign to say"SOME of us here at So and So love a
good bloody debate". We did make sales but we did get complaints and angry people making scenes at times.

Granted,some of these people were the type to make scenes anyway but still,I saw many folks disgusted by the Axis of Evil puppets and they didn't feel right in the same store where Curious George dolls share space with Klutz activity book kits. Many times,I heard customers talking about the issues of the day while I kept my tongue in check when they said something I disagreed with,even when they were chatting with the very same co-worker who made the debate sign. To me,there was a right way to give an opinion about certain books that I disliked-if asked by a customer,I would say"I didn't read it but I saw some of the reviews about it/or it's gotten alot of word of mouth." Which was true-the most I would say about a title that was sort of negative was"It recieved mixed reviews."

It's just sad that some independant bookstores feel that they have to wear their politics on their sleeves-quite a few times,when my boss would place orders with publisher's sales reps and they mentioned a Republican/conservative new title,she would order one or two saying"This is one of my token books that I have to have so I won't be accused of being biased." If you're going to be a general bookseller,you should carry all the books that people want in your area and if even it's not a book you like or agree with for whatever reason,you should never insult someone for wanting it or refuse to get it for them. Independance means allowing everyone to openly disagree with you,just as you would want them to do for you. Freedom of speech is not one sided and neither is the freedom to find the book you want.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pop Culture Party Mix

Tommorrow is the NYC ComicCon,where Little Sister and I will venture forth to seek out some thrills and chills(a few snow flurries are expected)-one of those thrills will hopefully be getting to meet Jason Mewes,who has been confirmed to be occupying his hetro lifetime Silent Bob for both Lunchbox's talk and autograph session. That should stir up a good story or two to share(fingers crossed).

In other news,James Frey's two book deal with Riverhead has been canceled and no one's really discussing the details(we can guess as to the why but the how sounds interesting-does Frey have to return any advance money,I wonder?). LT LeRoy,whose false indentity was revealed around the same time as the Frey scandal,is being backed by her publisher,all eager to promote her next novella. The LeRoy business never bothered me,mainly due to the fact that LeRoy's a fiction writer and there's a long history of pen names attached to that. Also,I never heard of any of her books before this whole name game made the news and I don't anyone else who did either!

Veronica Mars fans will be happy to hear that we're getting some new episodes by March 15(there was a rumor that new VM shows wouldn't be on until April)-Smallville watchers'll have to wait for March 30th but I believe that show will have the return of Brainiac,so it'll be worth the wait. Most of the reasons given for the delay include the Olympics but I think it's more due to not wanting to go up against American Idol while AI is doing two hour shows for the moment.

Speaking of American Idol(yep,that was subtle),I was glad to see Copacabana Boy out of the running(he was just beating that song up in a dark alleyway)and would've prefered Brenna to be sent packing rather than Becky but,hey,there's always next week! The girls seem to be a stronger group than the guys-the only standouts I saw where Chris,the Bon Jovi boy,Taylor Hicks and Bucky. Taylor's already a strong fan favorite so he'll be around for awhile. Ace Young doesn't seem to be as smarmy as Constantine was but choosing "Father Figure" as his opening song gave me and Little Sister the creeps.

I'm not heading to the movies this weekend but if I was,I would check out Madea's Family Reunion,despite the lack of critic reviews. Diary of a Mad Black Woman was a good movie(the bootleg version that I saw was great,anyway)and Family Reunion looks like more of the same(not to mention that the part where Madea bitchslaps the kid on the bus is damn funny)-if anyone does catch it,let me know if it's worth atleast a bootleg borrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

American Idoling away

So,now that the fun part of American Idol is over(the audition process,that is. Who doesn't love the thrill of truly bad singers who have not a clue just how bad they are?),we get down to the nitty-gritty with the voting. It was ladies first last night and to simply things,I'm just going to pick my Top Three Best and Worst Contenders to date:

The Best in Show

1) with a bullet is Paris Bennett;she's been one of my favorites from the auditions and a safe bet would be that she makes it to the finals. She may be a sweet 17,with a Rudy Huxtable speaking voice but when she sings,a real Motown Mama steps forward. Granted,she's got the legacy factor(her grandmother was in Sounds of Blackness)but the talent is all her own doing.

2)Mandisa-first off,she did justice to Heart's "Never" which puts her in my good books(the Wilson sisters rule)and I liked the way she called Simon out the other week for his cracks about her weight. Mandisa has a strong personality but she's not a drama queen-that honor belongs to another-and we need singers who will not just pick ballads or Stevie Wonder songs. Last season,there were too many damn people going thru Wonder's entire catalog and it made you want to throw rotten veggies at the TV screen.

3)Lisa Tucker-Her version of "I'm a-changing" sounded like a night out in a cool little jazz club,with it's smoky stylings. Lisa seems like the Little Engine That Could here-not flashy but one to definately watch.

Worst on Stage

1)Brenna-she has the kind of attitude that even the most flamboyant of drag queens would find slapworthy. Also,she keeps trying to shake her booty even when it's not a song to groove to. I will be so happy when she leaves the show.

2)Heather Cox-I know this is mean but her name sounds like a porn star's. Her singing doesn't impress me very much either,which is why the most I can recall about her is my lame porn star joke.

3)Stevie Scott-Simon was spot on when he said she sounded like a child singing at a party(one of the harshest statements of the night). Her voice was so reedy that at the start of her song,I thought something was wrong with the volume on my TV.

The fellas will be on tonight and hopefully,there'll be some compettion. At this point,the girls have some heavy hitters on their side so someone better atleast score a base hit,if not a home run to keep hope alive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On the Shelf with Tilly Bagshawe

Tilly Bagshawe's debut novel,Adored,was one of the books I took a chance on while browsing amongst the booths at last June's BookExpo America and it paid off rather well. Adored is modeled after such old school beach books like Lace,A Woman of Substance and Valley of the Dolls with the glamour,glitz and heartaches of strong yet vulnerable independant women. Siena McMahon is the heart of Adored,the granddaughter of Hollywood legend,Duke McMahon,who defies her family to obtain her dreams of stardom.

Tilly has nothing against chick lit-her sister,Louise,has several succesful novels in that field-but wishes to recapture the type of books she grew up with for a new generation. She knows quite a bit about being a early success-at age 26,Tilly was the youngest partner in a major headhunting firm. She's also been a freelance journalist for many well known British publications and will be releasing her new novel this summer. Enough from me,let's let the lady speak for herself:

1)Adored's plot centers around the McMahons,a
legendary Hollywood family. Did you base them on a particular
celebrity family,past or present?

No, I didn't, although a lot of people have asked me if they were based
on the Douglases, so make what you will of that. I like to think of them
as the most extreme sides of various different celebrity families rolled
into one.

2)Adored is meant to be a traditional Beach Read;would
you say you're more in tune with Jackie Collins or
Barbara Taylor Bradford's style?

I'm tempted to say Jackie Collins, but
that may simply be because I have read more of her stuff so am more
familiar with the style. However I hope Adored has its own voice,
even though I would be flattered to be viewed as a disciple of the
Collins/BTB/Krantz school.

3)What books inspired you to become a writer?

Lucky and Chances by Jackie Collins, Riders and Rivals by Jilly Cooper,
all my sister Louise's novels, especially Career Girls, and everything by
Sidney Sheldon.

4)Are there any plans to write a sequel to Adored?

Not exactly 'plans', no. I have toyed with the idea of a prequel,
about Duke's young life. But I'll never say never.

5)What is your next book about and when will it be released?

It's called Showdown, its about a young girl's struggle to
make it as an international horse racing star, with a lot of sexy cowboys
thrown in for good measure, and its out this coming June

6)Your sister Louise is a chick lit author-would
either of you consider swapping genres,just to see
what the other would come up with?

Louise has written bonkbusters in the past, too. She is such a
terrific writer and she could turn her hand to anything. As for chick lit, it
really isn't for me. I'm more of a glamour girl I'm afraid.

7)Which do you prefer-Desparate Housewives or Footballer's Wives?

I've never seen Footballer's wives although everyone
tells me I would love it and I keep meaning to get the first series
on DVD. However I do adore Desperate Housewives, and I particularly
love Lynette. The chaos of her life is spookily familiar...

Adored is coming in paperback this May,which gives you plenty of time to dive into the splendor of Tilly's writing before getting ahold of Sundown for your vacation reading. Check out her website in the title link above for more info and my thanks to Tilly for giving me this interview. If books could have theme songs,"It's My Life" by No Doubt would fit Adored like a glove and now with Sundown to look forward to, I hope my inner IPod will come up with the right tune to read it by.

Monday, February 20, 2006

We're off to see the NYC ComicCon

Next Saturday,Little Sister and I will be attending the New York City ComicCon at the Javits Center(we only have one day passes since I paid for them back when I had to work on Sundays),which should be quite a show. I've been to the Javits before(due to going to two BEAs)but this will be my sister's first time. Also,my sister is an aspiring cartoonist and plans to hand out a promo booklet,featuring various cartoons from the website her work appears at. Saturday seems to be the best day to be there since there will be a ton of interesting people appearing,like Kevin Smith and WWE wrestler,Kane.

Granted,Kane and Kevin Smith are an odd pairing but they are connected together due to one of the greatest forms of American Literature,Comic Books-Kane will be pushing his upcoming movie,See No Evil(a title that pratically sits up and begs to be mocked) and any Kevin Smith fan knows how much he loves comics-not many big time film directors have their own comic book store,after all. Also,Milla Jovovich will be around,signing some autographs and encouraging folks to see UltraViolet(I expect alot of drooling fanboys will be surrounding her on all sides). Another person scheduled to attend is Peter Scolari...yes,"Bosom Buddies" Peter Scolari himself! I always thought he was the cute one on that show(Sorry,Hanks but you're just not my type).

There's also a number of speaker panels,one of which will be featuring someone I saw at last June's BEA-Patrick McDonnell,creator of the Mutts cartoon strip. His talk will be about promoting his work online and I hope that Little Sister and I will be able to get into that session(Q&A from the audience will be permitted). He was such a nice guy when I met him and it would benefit my sister alot,in my opinion,to speak with him. It should be easier than getting into the Kevin Smith talk(atleast he's doing an autograph signing which I fully intend to get,despite the massive line that will spring up).

Anyone interested in the whole ComicCon business can click onto the title link above to find out more. A full report on how my ComicCon experience went will be posted by next Monday(may have to spread it out over a couple of days). Wish me and Little Sister luck,true believers!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Want to see something really scary?

I went browsing thru some movie sites and found one of the freakiest film trailers that I've seen in quite a while for a movie called Silent Hill that's due out in April. Silent Hill's plot has to do with a mom with a sickly daughter who becomes stranded in an abandoned town that spreads soot into the air on a daily basis(something about underground fires was mentioned)and is also occupied by mysterious evil forces. Alice Krige is in the film as well and that lady's creepy enough on her own(Some might remember her best from Stephen King's Sleepwalkers and others as the Borg Queen from Star Trek:First Contact)without the eerie fog,empty streets and disappearing/reappearing girl who resembles the missing daugther(yep,she vanishes from the car so that her mom can go look for her and thus advance the story).

The trailer is very suspenseful and chockful of ominous visuals-I was surpised to find out that it's based on a video game(it reminded me more of The Others with Nicole Kidman) but apparently Roger Avery worked on the screenplay so there's hope that this might be the one film that redeems that whole genre. Check out the trailer and the eye catching current poster(the studio's holding a poster contest with your choice of designs)at the title link above and see for yourself if Silent Hill will be something to talk about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Set yourself a place at The Secret Supper

Javier Sierra's The Secret Supper takes place in the Italy of 1497,where the mysterious death of a noblewoman by poison leads a top inquisitor,Father Agostino Leyre to Milan in search of a conspiracy that may involve Leonardo Da Vinci's current work-in-progress,the Last Supper. Father Agostino is also in search of a man known only as The SoothSayer,a supposed defender of the faith who takes violent means to stop those who seek out an earlier painting of DaVinci's that also holds clues to the hidden message encoded in the Last Supper painting.

At first,this may seem like Davinci Code Redux but even if I had read DVC(which I didn't),I do believe that I would still enjoy this book for it's own merits. For one,the narrative voice(mainly that of Father Agostino)of the story has a lively yet serious tone as events unfold and puzzle pieces fall into place(there is more than one riddle for the characters and the reader to solve)and Father Agostino is not the cold,pious figure that you would expect-rather,he's in the mold of such detectives as John Dunning's Cliff Janeway or Nelson Demille's John Corey-educated,amiable,firm in his convictions yet open minded as to the possibilites set before him and around him.

Several of the characters in Secret Supper are actual historial figures(there's a full list at the end of the book along with some author's notes)and many who read this novel will no doubt debate the historical accurancy of it but keep in mind that this is clearly marked as fiction(none of that James Frey business here). Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose will also be mentioned in comparison with the Secret Supper but if you couldn't finish the Eco book,don't worry;Secret Supper(well translated by Alberto Manguel)is much easier to get into and will give you a thought provoking thrill ride that holds you unto the very end.

Secret Supper is due out in March,so keep your eyes open at your local bookstore. You can visit the official website for TSS by clicking the title link above. I hope that Secret Supper does well and will give such authors as Javier Sierra a wider audience. It's been awhile since I've read a good mystery and now,thanks to this book,I'm eager for more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Guilty Pleasure as charged:Gilmore Girls

I blame ABC Family for this current addiction of mine-they make it so easy for me to indulge in the seemingly content bliss of Stars Hollow,CT where folks are just so friendly(even when they're fighting),the eccentrics are funny haha not funny-scary and
almost everyone talks in rapid fire yet intelligent/witty fashion. Yep,I'm getting hooked on Gilmore Girls reruns-is there a twelve step program for this? I started off
with catching some of Season one(the Donna Reed episode where Rory winds up having a
1950's style dinner for her boyfriend Dean intrigued me,especially since I used to watch old Donna Reed show repeats on Nick on Nite years ago)and am now fully invested in Season three.

It's really not embarassing,tastewise,to watch GG-the writing is smart and I love to watch Lorelai take on Emily(not to mention Edward Hermann as her dad,Richard,who I still have flashbacks from seeing him as a master vampire macking on Dianne Weist in Lost Boys),Luke getting grumpy(which he does at the drop of a hat),Sookie & Jackson debating anything(they're my favorite couple)and to anxiously await the moment when Lane openly confronts her controlling Christian mother(I just know that has to happen at some point here!). Alexis Biedal as Rory is also very indentifable-how can I not like a girl who needs to take several different books to read for pleasure during her downtime moments during the day?

Little Sister has said to me"Just buy the DVDS!' but there are about five seasons at this point(not watching season six which is currently on the WB-soon-to-be CW network for reasons of sanity and clarity)and my current budget is not that ready to be spent
on such a luxury item. Also,5 sets at once are pretty daunting-I try to catch up with a series around the third season. I adore DVD sets but I think I need some more time with GG before I make that big of a commitment(and maybe when I'm ready,I can afford to take the Nestea plunge on my purse there).

ABC Family also shows Smallville repeats daily but since I have up to season four already,I can resist diving in (unless it's a really great Lex episode or one of those "Clark on Red K" ones or even a kickass Lionel Luthor...please stop me now)much too often but they are my main source for Gilmore Girls. I know I'm hopelessly hooked when I started checking out GG websites for more info(the ABC Family one is linked above) about the plotlines and the actors(even looked on IMDB for a couple of people). Oh,well-I suppose it's just a harmless diversion. I do change the channel before Seventh Heaven comes on(that show makes Touched By An Angel look like an F/X Original series and is more nauseating)and that counts for some,doesn't it?

Maybe's the quirky dialogue,the small town sweetness or just the fun of watching a mother-daughter team without sleazy overtones but I can't keep away from the tv at five in the afternoon to see what's up in Stars Hollow. Sure,when things change for me,I'll have to put GG aside but by that time,perhaps I will get all the DVD sets and force Little Sister to watch some of them with me(she tried it once and found the talking to be too much)-a girl's gotta have a dream,doesn't she?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Misery loves company,especially on Valentine's Day

I saw an interesting post at Bookseller Chick regarding Valentine's Day-seems her store does a "Dark Side of Valentine's Day" display(to balance the usual set-up of
love poems and romance novels)that features such fare as He's Just Not That Into You
for all those who wind up in the self help section,looking for love in all the wrong
places. That is so cool-rarely do you see open acknowledgement of the reverse effect
of a major holiday at your local store. The whole notion of that has inspired me to
write up a guide for Pop Culture Pleasures That Make Valentine's Day Managable For
The Mateless(which does include me):

Books: I mentioned on BSC that a good,antiromance novel to read would be Wuthering
Heights by Emily Bronte-why so many people adore this story is beyond me. I'm not
saying it's a bad book but it is real damn depressing(the Brontes were in desparate
need of Prozac)if you think about it;the entire story is about people making other
people miserable because they can't hook up with their honey. Heathcliff,in particular, is a truly vicious character who you feel sorry for at first but after
awhile,you start thinking"You know,this guy just seems to love beating down on people!" If I had to pick a Bronte leading man,give me Rochester anyday-you can feel
more forgiving towards a guy who was tricked into marrying a psycho(and went blind when she burned the house down)than a guy who couldn't get over not marrying a woman
whose brother picked on him and punishing her daughter to get back at her dying on him. Angsty men are overrated,in my opinion.

Another great pick is The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton-don't be fooled by the title;this is not a happy ending story at all. Lily Bart is Everyone Singleton's nightmare-the unmarried person who winds up a total social and financial reject. Wharton was the grand dame of high society misery-she made silent suffering of emotional pain as beautiful as any aria or power ballad you've ever heard. Plus,the film version with Gillian Anderson is first rate(you'll see why PBS' Bleak House is made even better with her as one of the leads).

Movies:This can be tricky since there's usually a plenthora of lovey-dovey flicks shoved in your face this time of year but if you choose carefully,you can find just the right film for your viewing displeasure. Fight Club,for example,is a good nonlove story-plenty of fisticuffs,blood and nasty characters making outrageous statements at one another. Yes,Helena Bonham Carter is in it but believe me,after seeing her in grimy goth girl gear and saying such charming phrases as"I hadn't had sex that good
since grade school",you'll wonder how she ever got a date after that.

I would recommend Corpse Bride but it has sort of a happy ending so you'ld be better off with FrankenHooker(not as bad as it sounds) or the French thriller,High Tension. Cecile de France really shows you the meaning of "Love Hurts" in many gruesome ways in a good old-fashioned 70's style road kill horror show. France may be considered as a very romantic nation but you'll want to have your honeymoon elsewhere after seeing this sinister side of the french countryside.

TV/DVD:Since the Olympics are on,many of your viewing probelms are solved but a good series to catch up on via DVD is Nip/Tuck. If you've never watched it at all,you might think"yeah,right-the probelms of a bunch of pretty people are really going to help me over the V-day hump"-you would be so wrong. First off,the plastic surgery is shown in rather realistic detail and nothing's more unromantic than watching someone scrap the fat out of someone having lipo(don't even get me started on the breast implants). Also,any love connections on this show wind up in the ninth level of relationship hell-love triangles get twisted,sexual quirks become deadly and even the
sweetest guy on the show,Sean(played by Dylan Walsh),is not immune to his darker impluses such as cheating on his wife with a cancer patient(who goes into remission) to getting it on with a sex doll modeled on one of his clients(who was not only flattered but used to date his business partner). Julian Mcmahon as Christian Troy is another reason I love this show:he's the guy you love to hate and hate to love.

Well, have a happy Valentine's day-enjoy the link to Pink's "Stupid Girls" in the title above and just remember,sour grapes taste just fine when they're chocolate coated:)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Da Vinci Debaters Welcome!

Sony Entertainment has set up a website called The DaVinci Challenge that will feature essays from religious experts discussing the pros and cons of the
upcoming DaVinci Code movie and/or the book. You can click the title link to check it out-I read about it in the NY Times this morning(which has a broken link to the website in the online article)and decided to see what essays were already up and to read them for myself.

Since I didn't read DVC or any of Dan Brown's books(he's become one of those writers that are so popular that I have no desire to even try-excessive hype causes that in many folk),I figured that I'm alot like most of the target audience for the movie-you do feel sometimes that you should atleast try to know something about it for the very sake of being able to talk about with those who have read it without sounding snobby about not having read it.

So far,there are three essays posted and they all basically encourage Christians not to go the protest route and to see this as an opportunity to openly discuss faith with others and to be able to have a solid foundation to refute the novel's claims by seeing the movie or/and read the book,too. Sony says that they're not editing the content of the essays and I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a smart move on their part,in my opinion,to open up the floodgates and say"Ok,let's talk about this together and maybe we can agree to disagree."

As for me,the closest I'm getting to this whole thing is reading The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra(which is due out in March from Simon & Schuster),a novel that focues on DaVinci's painting of the Last Supper and the coded message hidden within. At first,I thought it would be another book to jump on the Dan Brown bandwagon but it's a story that stands on it's own quite nicely. For one thing,unlike DVC,Secret Supper is a historical novel that takes place in Italy during the year 1497. A mysterious death leads a Dominican inquistor,Father Augustine,to investigate Leonardo's work in progress to discover what it has to do with a possible conspiracy to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church. I'll have a more complete review when I finish the book but I can say that Secret Supper is a pretty engrossing read with shades of Number of the Rose(but much easier to get into)and if the DVC fanfare helps to put some more good books on the shelves,so much the better. We can all agree that a good story is worth the telling and if we're lucky,worth the price of admission and popcorn at the multiplex nearest you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Tonight,the Grammy awards will be presented live and as Rhett Butler would say,frankly my dear,I don't give a damn. Why? Well,for one thing I'm not the most consistant music lover-it's a rare thing for me to play an entire album for my listening pleasure(the last one I can recall hearing to the bitter end was the soundtrack to the Buffy musical episode). The most I listen to on a album is about
three or four songs,max.

That's shocking to diehard High Fidelity types,I know but albums are like magazines to me-if I'm not interested in the subject,I would rather skip ahead or go back to the stuff I enjoy. Yes,I'm the kind of person that Greatest Hits collections were made for.

Also,many of the current artists are not my cup of tea;yes,I hope that my girl Gwen gets some props and Green Day's "Blvd of Broken Dreams" kicks ass,in my opinion but alot of them I can do without. For one thing,that Fall Out Boy video is so played out that it makes me want to hunt them down with the aid of Ted Nugent. ColdPlay is highly overrated,Paul McCartney getting nominated for Album of the Year for a record that only his closest fans care about is just a sop to the oldschool Beatles groupies and WTF is with R. Kelly getting nominated for Best Long Form Video for Trapped in the Closet? He should be nominated for Best Comedy Album/Video-that bit of wackiness would do Ed Wood proud.

What will I be watching instead? American Idol,of course-atleast it won't be as predictable and most of the singing will be a hell of a lot better,plus from the
ads,it looks like there'll be plenty of drama bombs to go around. Kayne West will,no doubt,shoot himself from the hip as usual but that'll be replayed to death online and on the airwaves so I really don't have to see it. Simon Cowell is a nasty SOB but he's an honest SOB who,if you get past the snark,can give good advice(I was pretty convinced last season that he and Paula were getting it on-the two of them fought way too much),not to mention that one of the contestants,Paris Bennett,sounds like one to watch.

Plus,Veronica Mars is new tonight and the episode's called"Ain't No Magic Mountain High Enough",which is as about as musically themed as I want for the evening's entertainment. Maybe I will catch the very end of the Grammys but if I miss it, I suspect that it will not haunt me with any lingering melodies but clear the stage for the next opening act to make their dreams come true for me and you(hey,Tv theme songs should have their own catagory,in my opinion!).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On the Shelf with Tanya Maria Barrientos

Tanya Maria Barrientos is one of those authors who is so highly recommended by writers you know, such as Suzanne Strempek Shea and Jennifer Weiner,that you're
willing to try one of their books and are thankful that you did. Tanya's first
novel,Frontera Street,tells the story of two women from the opposite sides of
the tracks who find that they have more in common than they know when they begin
working together at Frontera Street Fabrics. It's a beautiful story of finding
community and friendship despite the social and emotional borders that divide
people up.

Family Resemblance,her second novel,was a Ride and Read Transit Book Club pick
and she has also recieved a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts
in 2001 and also the Pew Fellowship in the Arts that same year. Currently,Tanya
is a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and I was fortunate enough to talk
with her for your reading pleasure:

1)There are characters in both of your novels,Frontera
Street and Family Resemblance,who have a love of
sewing, is this an interest of yours as well?

Funny you should ask. My mother is an amazing seamstress. She made all
clothes when I was growing up and that is why I decided to set much of
Frontera Street in a fabric shop. I was dragged to countless fabric
propped on a bench in front of the pattern books and told to wait for
her. I
loved the colors and textures of the fabric, and I liked paging through
those giant pattern books. Problem was, I was a TERRIBLE
portion of FRONTERA STREET about Dee making a pair of coulottes that
bag and
pinch was straight out of my girlhood.
Now, in FAMILY RESEMBLANCE the main character needlepoints. That's my
I love it, and had a great time inventing projects for Nita in the

2)Your second novel,Family Resemblance,was a selectionof the Read & Ride Transit Book Club;how did it feel
to be the recommended reading for an entire city?

It was an amazing honor. They always pick a fiction book and a
book and the month they chose my novel, they selected SEABISCUIT as the
non-fiction book. I took my husband to my local B&N and made him take a
picture of the display they had set up with FAMILY RESEMBLANCE and
SEABISCUIT sharing a table..I knew that was never going to happen

3)Have you ever considered writing a nonfiction book?
In the real world, I'm a journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I
with non fiction all the time. So far the bug to write a non fiction
has not bitten.

4)Will you write a follow-up to Frontera Street?
No. I think the story has been told.

5)Who do you think is the most promising voice in
fiction today?

Wow, what a tremendously difficult question. I'm a big fan of Gish Jen
the Chinese writer Dai Sijie. I love Suzanne Strempek Shea and Elinor
I love Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith and Ann Patchett ....Face it, this
question in impossible to answer!

6)What were some of your favorite books growing up?
GONE WITH THE WIND, which I think I read eight times.
Anything by Jane Austen and the Brontes...

As a little kid, my faves were:
think too many people have heard of called BEAUTIFUL JOE, about a dog.
And ANYTHING by Beverly Cleary..Little Women (natch) and all the Laura Ingalls Wilder
books..I Loved those!!!

7)Do you think the internet has become more of a help
or a hinderance to writers and readers alike?
Probably a help, because now regular readers (as opposed to critics)
the power to make a book a hit more than ever before.

My thanks to Tanya for taking the time to chat with me and I strongly urge folks
looking for a good read to check her out(click the title link to find out more).
There are plenty of good writers with great stories to tell that may not catch
your eye right away but some things are definately worth a second look. Tanya's
novels are worth that and more.

Monday, February 06, 2006

There's got to be a morning after Superbowl commericals

I didn't actually watch the Superbowl,except for the halftime show with the Rolling Stones(which was about as exciting as watching your not-good-to-be-rejected-by-American
Idol friends sing along to a Stones Greatest Hits CD)but thanks to the magic of the internet,I was able to check some of the commericals that have become almost as important as the game.

First up was the Jessica Simpson Pizza Hut ad,where she replays her sashaying from
Dukes of Hazzard music video as she feeds a typical geeky teen boy one of those new
pop crust things. Pizza is getting too damn complicated these days-remember when the
big deal was getting extra cheese? Now,you can pratically have a Sunday pot roast dinner as a topping with mashed potatoes as crust filling with gravy dip. Pizza
should not have dipping sauce! As to Jessica,I'm sure she'll sell some slices but
this sucker won't stir up as much fuss as the Britney Spears Pepsi ad did(or even
that Carl's Jr. ad,where the burgers were bigger than Paris' breasts).

Then I saw the Caveman FedEx ad-not bad,looked pretty pricey just to get folks to
not use UPS. You kinda of feel sad for the poor caveman-first,his message gets
eaten by a T-Rex,he's fired for not using a company that doesn't exist(abit too
realistic there)and then,is stomped to death. Real upbeat and cheery there,fellas.

After that,I watched the Dove soap commerical about promoting positive body images
for young women. It's a nice idea but it doesn't make me want to buy soap. You feel
more like watching WE or Oxygen while Oprah hands out Dr. Phil's latest book to her
audience members.

Finally,there was the Ford Hybrid car ad with Kermit the Frog. Some folk may weep
and nash their teeth at this but hey,if Snoopy can sell insurance,why not buy a car
from a Muppet? It was short,sweet and simple and ended with a happy Kermie getting
a ride home(or about to,in theory). If you're gonna take the word of a Muppet for
a great new car deal,Kermit is the one I'ld listen to. Certainly better than Elmo
anyday(besides,Elmo's too young to drive in most states). The winner of the Superbowl
battle of the ads is clearly won by a green mile. Ah,well,there's always next year!

Friday, February 03, 2006

On the Shelf with AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is a cool guy-not only has he written for some of the best magazines around(including my personal favorite,Entertainment Weekly),his book,The Know It All:One Man's Humble Quest To Become The Smartest Person In the World,is one of the smartest and funniest ways to take a crash course in world knowledge.

AJ chronicles the personal challenge he set himself:to do what his father attempted long ago by reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica,all thirty-two volumes. His project gave him many twists and turns,such as trying to stump family members with his newly found factoids,looking into joining Mensa,seeking a chance to be on Jeopardy!(he had to settle for the daytime version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)and other real life adventures.

AJ has also written The Two Kings:Jesus and Elvis and is the senior editor at Esquire magazine. I was fortunate enough to corner him for a few questions:

1)You write alot about your family in Know-It-All;what
reaction did you get from them after the book was released?

I was most worried about the reaction of my brother-in-law Eric, who is the nemesis of the book. He's a Harvard-educated know-it-all who liked to mock my relative ignorance. I sent him an early copy and he was okay with it. He said that he comes off as insufferably pompous, but at least I described him as 'moderately good-looking.' So that's my advice to all the writers out there. If you ever criticize someone's personality in print, make sure to call them attractive. Vanity trumps everything.

2)What was the strangest fact you learned from the
Encyclopedia Britannica?

That's a tough one. There were so many strange facts. An ocean of them.
I guess the single strangest fact is that philosopher Rene Descartes
had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Truly bizarre. But at least it's
nice to know there's someone for everyone.

3)If you had been allowed to be on Jeopardy,how well do you think
you've done against Ken Jennings?

Sadly, I think he would have trounced me. I've since met Ken Jennings,and think he's a great man. Plus, I was very honored, because he said he learned some new facts from my book, including the fact that opossums have 13 nipples. So if Jeopardy had asked only about odd-numbered nipples, maybe I would have held my own. He didn't know
that when he was on Jeopardy.

4)Which volume of the EB was your favorite?

Probably Q. First of all, it was short. Just a couple of hundred pages.And it also had a great Scrabble word -- QA. Just the two letters. It's a type of Babylonian liquid measurement. (Caveat: Qa is not in the Scrabble dictionary. But I say the Britannica trumps the Scrabble dictionary anyday).

5)You and Joe Queenan had abit of a literary feud over
his review of Know-It-All;who got the last word in that debate?

Well, I'm happy to say that most websites gave me the edge
(mediabistro, beatrice, etc.). I won't argue with them.

6)How did you feel about Know-It-All becoming a page a
day calendar?

That was delightful! I can't complain. Though my wife is annoyed that
they didn't put her birthday as a national holiday. That calendar would
be the one and only time that could happen.

7)What other books would you recommend to people who
want to increase their knowledge?

Mental Floss has a good book called "Condensed Knowledge" -- it's
packed with strange facts. (Full disclosure: I write for Mental Floss
magazine) Also, the above-mentioned Ken Jennings has a book coming out soon
called "Brainiac". He sent me an early copy -- it's part memoir, part
history of trivia. Lots of good facts in there. "Great Books" by David Denby is good. It can be a little dry at times,but it's a good exploration of the classics.

Check out the title link to read more of AJ's thoughts(totally agree about Denby's
Great Books-it's one of the highlights of my personal books on books home library
section)and look for The Know It All in either paperback or calendar version. My thanks to AJ for granting me this interview and looking forward to another smart
and sassy read from him.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Elizabeth Hyde & Seek this book out

Elizabeth Hyde's new novel,The Abortionist's Daughter,is not due until June in bookstores but I couldn't wait that long to recommend it to folks looking for a smart summer read. The title may cause many to flinch and move on which would be a shame,since they would only be depriving themselves of one of the better books to come out this year.

The story takes place in a small Colorado community where the murder of Dr. Diana Duprey,director of the local(and controversal)abortion clinic,makes quite a few waves. She was found dead in her lap pool with a suspicious bruise on her head and plenty of suspects to go around,from her husband Frank,a prominant attorney in the DA's office who had a loud argument with Diana that night to the Rev. Steven O'Connell,leader of the protest group who pickets Diana's offices daily and who enlisted her help with his family's own unexpected teen pregnancy probelm.

However,it is Megan,the daughter of the title,who becomes the heart of the novel. She is torn up emotionally,with conflicting feelings of guilt and anger towards her mother(it doesn't help matters that Megan had had a fight with her mother that morning with some nasty parting words that can never be taken back),tension with her father who is hiding more than one secret and the cameo appearances by Bill,her semi-stalking ex-boyfriend,just add to the simmering stewpot of stress that threatens to engulf her. Much of this is what leads her to Huck ,one of the investigating officers who wants to comfort her and yet knows he has to keep his distance-not just professionally but also due to Carolyn,his girlfriend who gets called out of town at one of the worst possible moments.

This may seem like your typical thriller but we're more in Snow Falling On Cedars territory than John Grisham/James Patterson country. Hyde is never melodramatic with her characters or their situations;she develops a strong sense of reality and tenderness that enhance the narrative flow and keep you not only interested in whodunit but what will happen next in the lives of Megan and Huck once the killer is found and it's back to somewhat regular life. It's the everyday vibe that hums thru the chapters that elevates this book from just another good CSI/Law & Order episode status to a memorable take on how some situations go from bad to worse by following the age-old adage of "Ignore it and it'll go away".

The Abortionist's Daughter is one of the most compelling novels about family you'll read this year and I hope that it recieves all the praise and glory it truly deserves. I hope to start the fanfare here and now but more importantly,put this book on your Must Read list-you won't regret it.