Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
especially welcome to extensive readers

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oscar nominations:naughty or nice?

I was up bright and early to check out the Oscar nominations for this year(to me,this is the Superbowl pre-show)and well,...the best way to discuss the picks is by dividing
them up into three catagories:


Happy to see someone from History of Violence get a nod(William Hurt for Best Supporting Actor)and hell to the yeah for Michelle Williams forming an actor's
trifecta with hubby Heath and Jake G.Brokeback Mountain recieved 8 nominations
all in all(including Ang Lee for director and Larry Mc Murtry & Diana Ossana up
for Adapted Screenplay)which holds hope for a sweep.

Also glad to see Corpse Bride up for Best Animated(even tho the Wallace & Gromit
movie will be the most likely winner),Keira Knightley get a Best Actress spot and
Paul Giametti have another shot at the gold for Cinderella Man.


Sad to see great movies like History of Violence get so little(Cronenberg was robbed,in my opinion)and films like Sin City get totally ignored. I know Robert
R and company burned some bridges there but it should've atleast gotten a nod
for the breathtaking visuals alone. Another thing that irks me:too many damn
politcal films-I'm sorry but if I want to watch politics,that's what I have
cable TV for. If I'm paying $10 or more(plus popcorn),I want something that
either entertains me or shows me something new to gnaw over. The big films
with political content(Good Night & Good Luck,Syriana and Munich)don't seem
to say anything I haven't already heard but to be fair,I didn't see any of

I know it was a long shot but did want to see In Her Shoes up for something
and would it have hurt to throw the 40 Year Old Virgin a screenplay nom?


The Best Song catagory has been rapidly dissolving with the lack of Disney theme
songs and Top 40 hits-they only pick three songs this year and one of them is"It's
hard for a pimp out here" from Hustle & Flow. Yeah,that's inspiring..right up
there with the Rocky theme!

Best Makeup is a fun catagory but the choices are rather dull this year-"Chronicles of Narnia""Cinderella Man" and "Star Wars;Revenge of the Sith"-tell me which one of
these is not like the others,tell me which one is different,do you know?

To sum up,this year's Oscar race is all set up so let's go catch up on some films
and place our bets.

Monday, January 30, 2006

On the Shelf with Jeremy Mercer

Jeremy Mercer was a not so mild mannered reporter for the Ottawa Citizen,covering the
crime beat which lead to him writing a couple of true crime books. Due to many circumstances,he decided to hide out in the City of Lights. There,he came across the
modern legend,George Whitman's Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. Shakespeare and Co is
a known haven for artists and eccentrics alike and Jeremy became one of it's resident

He's recently published a memoir about this experience titled Time Was Soft There:A
Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare and Co(in the UK,the book is known as Books,Bedbugs and
Baguettes)and is one of the founders of Kilometer Zero(there's a great passage in the
book that explains that name),a literary magazine that publishes right out of the
very bookstore which inspired it. Jeremy is currently working on his next book but
was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:

1) Your earlier books were mostly true crime-are you finished with that genre or do you still hold an interest in it?

I am actually going back to this genre with my next book, but hopefully in a more profound way. With the Shakespeare book, writing in the first person was the most excruciating thing I've done, so I wanted to get back to familiar ground while still challenging myself. While living in Marseille, I stumbled upon a true crime story that would allow me to do this. I am writing about the last man guillotined in French history, who, amazingly, was guillotined in 1977. The thrust of the book will be classic true crime, an In-Cold-Blood-in-the-South-of-France kind of deal: The murder, the police investigation, the arrest, the trial, the death sentence. But wrapped around that will be this golden thread that follows the history of the concept of death as a penalty. It will begin with the Hammurabi Code five centuries ago, go through the Greeks, citing the Socrates case, explore the Bible, New and Old Testaments, work through the Middle Ages, then get to France and Dr. Guillotin and the Terror and the slow dawning of the Abolitionist Movement with Beccaria, Voltaire, Hugo, Camus, all leading up the 1970s when a top lawyer vows he will end capital punishment in France. The idea is that by the end of the book, the reader will be left asking first whether the man will be executed, and then whether he should be executed, raising - subtly I hope - the question of the morality of the death penalty.

2) One of George's requirements for living at Shakespeare & Co was to read a book a day-have you been able to keep that up since you have left?

I am a binge reader. Sometimes I can read five or six books a week, especially in winter when the days are short and I have no projects on the go. Other times, my head is all abuzz - like when we were in Beijing last year for the Kilometer Zero show - and the same book will sit in my bag for a month. So, the answer is no, I don't read a book a day, though I do manage to get through about a hundred a year.

I do, however, read the International Herald Tribune every day, and finish the crossword almost every day, though Fridays and Saturdays can be real buggers.

3) Time Was Soft There was published in Europe under the title Books, Bedbugs and Baguettes - was that your

idea or your publisher's?

That was most definitely the idea of the publisher, or more aptly, the publisher's marketing department. At first I was horrified, I felt my artistic integrity had been slighted. But you know what? The book is selling damn well in the U.K. It has already gone into second printing. And, it looks like I am going to get a French deal because the French editor loved the look of the British edition. So, now the pragmatist in me doesn't mind so much. The book is getting read, and, as I am currently living on borrowed funds, much-needed royalties are being amassed.

4) Who became your most unlikely best friend during your stay at Shakespeare & Co?

I think all my Paris friends were unlikely. When I was getting drunk in bars every night with Canadian cops and lawyers in late 1999, how could I have ever dreamed that within months I would count among my close friends a codeine-addicted poet from London, a heroin-junky musician from American or an 86-year-old madman who let people sleep in his bookshop? My whole Paris experience reinforces my belief that to really squeeze the juice from life one must continually leap blindly into the unknown.

To try to answer your question a little more practically, I am currently writing the guillotine book from a little cave house overlooking the sea on the Greek island of Santorini. The reason I am here is that Luke, the night manager of Shakespeare and Company who is in my book, is the winter manager of a bookstore here on the island. So I came, partly for the tranquility and jaw-gaping beauty, but also to be close to a Paris bookstore friend.

5) What's your take on the James Frey controversy?

I feel tremendously sorry for James Frey. He must be a completely miserable and insecure person to feel he has to fictionalize his life to make it more interesting. I've always believed that the goal during our wink of life on this planet is to become comfortable in our skin, to be able to look hard at ourselves in the mirror and say, 'Yeah, I'm doing all right, I like who I am.' For him to fabricate parts of his life to make a book sell better just shows how desperate he is for superficial outside affirmation. The man should get a shoulder bag and go for a long long walk and learn to feel good about himself for being James Frey, not because he was Oprah's flavour of the day.

6) What do you think Sylvia Beach would've thought of George's version of Shakespeare & Co?

I imagine she would have applauded George's efforts to help writers and his bookstore's continual celebration of the written word. She also likely would have been flattered that he named his daughter after her, and impressed that he saved an original copy of Ulysses to give to that daughter. But, I think she would have been bewildered by George's lifestyle. She had a strong relationship with Adrienne Monnier and seemed to cherish her inner life. She would ask herself how a man could live for a half century with strangers and starving artists carousing about his bookstore.

7) Is there any advice you'ld give to someone going to Paris for the first time?

Rip up your return ticket the second you get through customs.

If you're curious about Kilometer Zero(or just want to see the two different book
covers of Time Was Soft There),just click the title link to find out more. Time
Was Soft There is a wonderful read for book people who love to travel,travelers who
love to read,or those who prefer to explore other worlds thru the comfort of their
favorite reading chair.

Stephen King's Cell-ular sensation

I spent a good chunk of my Saturday night devouring the new Stephen King novel,Cell.
Not very Sex and The City,I know but I hate that damn show,anyway(rant on hold). Cell's
premise,that a signal aka The Pulse is sent thru every cell phone at once,causing the
unfortunate folk using their rollover minutes at that very moment to turn into psycho
killer zombies,is rather a fun idea-especially if you can't stand the way many people
seem to consider constant phone calling as a god given right of priviledge.

The merry band of survivors starts with Clay Riddell,a graphic novelist who has just
made the deal of a lifetime and now has to worry that his son Johnny used his new red
cellphone(complete with personalized ringtone)at the wrong time as Clay is trapped in
Boston when all goreshow hell breaks loose. He teams up with Henry and Alice who hold
up briefly at Clay's hotel(with a refusing-to-leave-his-post desk clerk)before making
the trek towards Maine,where Clay's family is.

All the SK trademark stylings are here that regular readers have come to know
and love: the up-to-the-minute pop culture references(March of the Penguins gets a shout-out),the seeming all-too-real dreams shared by most of the characters, a wacky
religious type,an elderly gent with plenty of theories to expound upon and a big show
down that determines the fate of all. The book is dedicated to George Romero and
Richard Matheson for good reason;plenty of Omega Man/Land of the Dead vibes drive
the story,particularly Land of the Dead with the whole notion of the "phoners' having
an agenda and being given a leader(called either Raggedy Man or Harvard man due to
his college sweatshirt)who commands his troops telepathically.

So,is worth your money now or later in paperback? Either way,if you're looking for
a good time amongst the ghouls,I don't think you'ld be disappointed. It's not the
best of King but a heck of alot better than the Regulators,for example. Stephen King
knows how to give his readers a good mental moviehouse experience and he's the tops
in that field. Also included in the book is an excerpt from an upcoming novel,Lisey's
Story(due this fall)-a nifty little trailer to peak your interest. Extras are not just for DVDs,in my opinion. Enjoy the merry hell of Cell and watch out for those
ringtones-they'll be next on the horror hitparade!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Oprah's Frey Flaying

Yesterday,I turned on the Oprah show with James Frey,thinking that it was going
to be the Larry King Interview,part II. The show started with a clip recap of the
Million Little Pieces scandal ending with Oprah's phone call during the Larry King
appearance. The first words out of Oprah's mouth were"I'm sorry I made that phone

My jaw joined the millions of others that had dropped as Oprah apologized for being
blinded by her admiration for the book and that everyone who called her out for this
whole Frey mess was right on the money. Then,she held a real interview with James Frey
(who clearly had no clue that Oprah was going after him with a truth stick)and didn't
let up him when he kept trying to fumble his way thru the BS line he's used to feeding
others with-"I don't know what you mean by that..."and calling him out for referring to the people in his book as "characters". Novels have characters,James,memoirs have
real people-I think a college graduate should know atleast that.

When Oprah got him to admit that some of the Lily stuff was made up and the studio
audience gasped,I understood how they(and Oprah felt). As a reader,you get caught up
in a book sometimes that it's like you're living thru the very experiences that are
being written about. When you read a memoir,it's even harder to pull yourself out
of that written world because it's something you know has really happened to the
author and the people he/she's reliving these moments for you to see.

When I read Angela's Ashes,for example,there's a section when Frank McCourt tells
about a very long hospital stay where he was alone most of the time. I have an uncle
who had a similar experience as a boy so it made that book much more real to me. Not
saying that you need some sort of personal touchstone to connect with any form of art
but if it had been proven that McCourt had made alot of the book up,I would've felt
conned and angry at him just as Oprah felt duped that she cared so much about Lily
and now has doubts that she even existed.

Nan Talese was also there and basically gave the party line(Miss Snark can get into
that much better than I can). I can say that Talese certainly can keep cool under
pressure,unlike Frey who kept a whipped puppy look on his face and halfheartedly
uttered an acknowledgement of his lies. Frey sounded like a kid who's caught by
his parents doing something he shouldn't and tries to cut the lecture session
short by saying what they want to hear,in his opinion.

I have to say that I respect Oprah a hell of alot more after this and while I
still want her to have Jonathan Franzen on(one good talk would ease the tension),
she's done what many powerful people should do when the truth is exposed-take the
high road and confess,then clean up the mess. I confess that I'm a bad poet and I
know it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Discovering the joys of Bleak House

Charles Dickens is one of those Victorian writers I adore and yet,haven't fully digested inton my literary pallet. I've read several of his books(David Copperfield,
Oliver Twist,Great Expectations)that most folk have and a couple that some wouldn't
bother with(The Old Curiosity Shop,Dombey and Son). Bleak House,however,is considered
one of his novels that"serious" Dickens lovers have mastered.

PBS has gotten me back into Bleak House by having their latest Masterpiece Theater
miniseries show the Andrew Davies adaptation starring Gillian Anderson(yep,the X-Files
gal,don't underestimate her in period dramas my friends. She was amazing in The House
of Mirth). Andrew Davies is best known as the adapter of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle
version of Pride & Prejudice and has put many of the great novels on the small screen
such as Wives and Daughters,The Way We Live Now and Jane Austen's Emma. He's also done
orginal screenplays and contemporary novels such as Tipping the Velvet.

I actually got to met Davies a couple of years ago-my Jane Austen group from the
Republic of Pemberley went to England for the Annual General Meeting(group meetings
have taken place in many different locations). We had dinner with Mr. Davies in Bath where he was treated with much fanfare. He's a real charmer with a ribald sense of humor-delighted in mildly shocking us with such notions as Mr. Knightley having had
feelings for Emma's mother that he transferred to Emma herself. I asked him about
Daniel Deronda(he was working on that at the time)-Deronda being the first George
Eliot novel that I read,I was curious about what the film would be like(saw it on
TV a year or so later and enjoyed it). He praised the actors,particularly Romola
Garai(who's done quite a few films since then).

Anyway,back to Bleak House-I watched part one on Sunday and liked how the multiple
subplots(a Dickens staple)were nicely woven in. The camera angles are rather modern,
very Swoosh,bang! in a CSI mode but rather effective. Along with Gillian Anderson as
Lady Dedlock,the other standout performance is by Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn,the
lawyer eager to discover Lady D's mysterious past. Dance is great at being a menacing
bastard but not overdone(then again,he's got a better script to work with than The Golden Child here). Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson is rather remarkable as
well. Some actors blend in perfectly in a period film and AMM is one of those who
you have no trouble imaging as a woman of that time(unlike Demi Moore in the Scarlet
Letter,a glaring example of major miscasting).

I have two copies of BH(Dickens is one of those writers who you just have to have
extras of)-a Modern Library paperback and an Oxford Illustrated hardcover. I started
with the ML but wound up using the Oxford instead. Oxford Illustrated editions are
not as easy to find as they use to be(you can order them in sets directly from Oxford
University Press)but worth having if you want a nice reading copy with style. The
Dickens titles are small hardcovers(inbetween a mass market and a trade paperback
in size)with introductions from such people as Osbert Sitwell and the Earl of Wicklow
(they sound so properly British)and original illustrations from the first printings
of the book. Dickens is one of the few authors who it doesn't feel childish to read
with pictures-in fact,having to read him without them is a major deprivation and may
be why many people don't enjoy him as they should.

So,will I finish BH this time? Hopefully,I intend to try. Some would balk at the idea
of reading along with the show but sometimes,going for that carrot on the stick is
only way to get to the end.

Monday, January 23, 2006

On the Shelf with Keri Arthur

Keri Arthur is a name you'll want to remember when you're looking in your local bookstore's Paranormal Romance section(trust me,this genre's gathering together
enough writers and readers to make it so). Her new book,Full Moon Rising, is a
hot and spicy mix of science & magic,sort of Underworld with a dash of Serenity.

Full Moon Rising focues on Riley and Rhoan Jenson,twin brother and sister who,in
a world that acknowledges the existence of vampires and werewolves,are especially
unique being Dhampires(hybrid of both races). They both work for the Directorate
of Other Races that governs the supernatural world and keeps the human realm as
safe as can be. When Rhoan goes missing,Riley(who is more wolf than vampire)has
to make unlikely allies and fight her full moon yearnings to rescue him.

Keri is another wonderful Australian import who has won and been up for numerous awards,including the final five in Random House's Australia George Turner Award.
I'm sure that she'll enchant many new readers with Full Moon Rising,which is due
out soon from Bantam. Enough with the intro,I'll let the lady speak for herself:

1)At age 12,you rewrote a book in order to keep a
favorite character alive-who was that character and why did
he/she mean so much to you?

I actually can’t remember the character’s name or even the book title (and the book is now stacked in a box at the back of a cupboard somewhere). I do know it was a side character in one of Elaine Mitchell’s horse books (For those who don’t know her, Elaine Mitchell is an Aussie author who wrote a fantastic series for horse mad teenagers called The Silver Brumby series. It’s all about silver brumbies, and all from the horses point of view.) This particular book wasn’t one of the Silver Brumby series, though. I just remember loving that character and being outraged when he died. You’ve got to remember I was 12 at the time, and horse crazy.:)

2)Full Moon Rising is your North American debut but
you've published twelve other novels back home-are any of the
others connected to FMR?

Actually, all my books are published in North America. I have 12 currently published with ImaJinn Books, a small press publisher in America. Full Moon Rising is my Bantam Spectra hardcover debut.

Full Moon Rising is the first in a completely new series, though the original idea was sparked by a werewolf series I’m writing for ImaJinn.

3)Paranormal Romances are becoming a strong genre with a growing fanbase-what do you think accounts for that?

Because they have extremely sexy heroes and heroines who are not afraid to kick a little ass, perhaps? I think, too, that the popularity of shows like Buffy, Angel, and Charmed have proven to publishers that there is a market for things with a paranormal edge, and as a result, they’re now more willing to take a chance on the books than they were before.

4)You have a mix of science and the supernatural in
FMR's plot-do you tend to favor one over the other when you

No, I normally just go with whatever works for the book. I don’t actually plot as such—I’m a ‘pantzer’, which usually means a fair bit of editing (and in the case of FMR, researching to check my facts) afterwards.

5)Who are your current favorite writers?

Most of my favorites writers don’t actually write in the paranormal genre. I love, love, love Dick Francis, most of Stephan King’s books, and James Herbert’s stuff. I also love the first nine of the Anita Blake series. I’m currently enjoying Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch series and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie books, though.

6)Which do you prefer-vampires or werewolves?

Is both an acceptable answer? I guess if I’m pressed, I guess I’ll have to say I’m really enjoying writing about a werewolf heroine.

7)What's your favorite scary movie?

Alien scared the crap out of me, and it’s still one of my favorites. Though I love Aliens, simply because it has the delish Michael Biehn in it

You can check out Keri's website by clicking the title link above and explore the
many imaginative realms she's created. For now,I intend to add Riley Jenson to my
list of favorite leading ladies,such as Anita Blake,Sookie Stackhouse,Betsy Taylor
and Rachel Morgan-may there be many more like them to keep the fantasy genre alive
and kicking.

Friday, January 20, 2006

On the Shelf with Steve Almond

Steve Almond first became known to me when his ode to sugary snacks,CandyFreak,hit the stores-as someone who remembers when the Hundred Grand bar was called the Hundred
Thousand dollar bar(I can even sing the commerical jingle,too sad),his search for the
chocolates of old across America made me feel like I've found a friend. He's also written two short story collections,My Life In Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B.Chow and
other stories.

Steve's now crossed into uncharted territory for him-along with Julianna Baggott,he's
written a He Wrote/She Wrote novel called Which Brings Me to You,subtitled"a novel of
confessions" which is due out this spring from Algonquin. It's the story of John
and Jane, whose botched one night encounter turns into a correspondence of romantic
confessions. And now,the man of the hour:

>1)You're best known as a short story writer;what made
>you decide
>to work on a novel?

SA: I've been working on novels (suck-ass ones) for the last ten years. So the idea wasn't a new one. The impetus for writing this one, really, belongs to Julianna. She proposed the idea, pushed me on it (politely) and sent me a draft of the intro, which was awesome. It was the kind of piece that sucked me right in.

>2)Who came up with the concept for Which Brings Me To
SA: Julianna. All her. She had the thing in her head. She's clever that way.

>3)Is it harder or easier to write a book with someone
SA: I'd say it's easier, over all. Writing is lonely. You never know if anyone's ever going to read your stuff and give you feedback (did I mention my many failed novels?). With this book, we were able to send chapters back and forth and keep each other inspired. We were showing off for each other, which is exactly what our characters were doing for each other.

>4)Did any of the confession letters start out as short
>ideas or where they concieved just for this book?

SA: Yeah, these were all written for the book. I adapted a couple of them into stories later on. But they were conceived and written for the novel.

>5)The Evil B.B.Chow and other stories is due out in
>-if a person wanted to read only one of the
>stories,which one
>would you select?

SA: Gosh, I don't know. I mean, it depends on what you dig. As a collection, it's all over the place. "I Am as I Am" is probably the saddest, most straightforward piece. "Appropriate Sex" is kind of a farce. "Larsen's Novel" would appeal to anyone (like me) who's written a shitty novel. "Lincoln, Arisen" is some kind of insane tone poem.

>6)Do you think you'll team up with Julianna for
>another book?
SA: Ha. Hadn't considered it. As much fun as we had, something tells me we'd want to wait till the book tour is over before we answer this one.

>7)Discovered any new candies lately?

SA: Always am. I'm most excited about the Candyfreak Signature piece which I actually DESIGNED! It's a soft caramel, infused with cocoa and cinnamon, sprinkled with crisped rice, and enrobed in dark chocolate. INSANELY good. Shameless plug: you can order it on-line from Granny's Chocolates, in Gilbert, AZ.

You can go to Steve's website by clicking the title link and find out where to order
his new invention as well as check out excerpts from his other books. Which Brings Me
to You will make a fine addition to Steve Almond's Whitman Sampler of Literary Treats(you won't get that from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory!).

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

On the Shelf with Julianna Baggott

Julianna Baggott is a writer I've recently discovered but she's been around for quite
awhile-to some,she is better known as N.E.Bode,author of the children's series The Anybodies(coming soon to a theater near you),others are more familar with her poetry(
I particularly like the poem "Blurbs)and many more put her on their list of favorite
novelists with such books as Girl Talk,The Miss America Family and Madam.

Which Brings Me To You is her upcoming novel this spring from Algonquin. The plot
centers around Jane and John,whose Wedding Crashers intro leads them into being
rather unusual pen pals-sending"confessions" of past romantic failures. Julianna
cowrote this book with Steve Almond(who will also be interviewed in this very blog)
best known for his short story collections and the tasty travelogue,CandyFreak. For
now,it's ladies first!

1)You've written in many
genres-novels,poems,children's literature-
is there one that you prefer the best?

i like to cross-train. sometimes i feel like sprinting, sometimes long-distance through woods. so i like the

flexibility of having all the genres available. i have to say i love writing for kids. i never thought i would.

i was one of those snobs who looked down on it as a lesser genre, but not it seems like i'm allowed to be

more of an artist there than in the confines of contemporary American fiction.

2)Why did you decide to write Which Brings Me To You
with Steve?

the tagline "a novel in confessions" came to me. the idea for the novel was born with the back-and-forth structure
already set in its DNA. i knew i couldn't write it alone and so i turned to the writer i knew who really knew how

to write flailing love and who could keep up a good pace. almond.

3)Did you find it easier or harder to write a book
with someone
i have hissy fits when i write alone. i turn against the book at a certain point.

now i know that i prefer to do this alone. it's unbecoming to write with someone else. let me clarify: it isn't ever

easy to write a novel. and although steve and i started out really well, it was NOT smooth sailing. Our criticisms

of the characters started to sound a lot like criticism of each other. it got a little ugly, but that ugliness made the book stronger,

more interesting.

4)Did any of the confession letters start off as ideas
for other
stories or where they concieved only for WBMTY?

i had to write the opening, to woo almond to work on this book. but i knew i had two of my five sections done already (more or less).

my michael hanrahan story was first published in an anthology called LIT RIFFS -- actually, i'd say that was where Jane was born.

and my story about the frenchman -- Pascal Lemir -- was already written for the anthology SEX & SENSIBILITY. the others grew up on their own.

5)The Anybodies,your children's series,is now being
made into a
movie-how much input are you able to put into the

i won't have any input, to speak of, except if there's a spin-off TV show.

in that case, i have a voice at the table. but, of course, the visuals will have

already been established in film. people expect me to be all bent up about this,

but i'm not. the film will draw people back to the book, and i was in complete control there.

6)Do you think you'll team up with Steve for another


7)One of your poems is called "Blurbs"-if you had to
write one
for Which Brings Me To You,what would it say?

ha! this is such a clever question. i'd call it a literary experiment -- maybe even a vicious tennis match between two authors

bent on out-confessing each other. i'd talk about its frank sexuality, its desperate nature riding up alongside

its comedic nature, and its honesty. i'm sure i'd gush. that's the blurb genre -- and why the blurb will never

really make it as an artform.

Please check out Julianna's website linked in the title above-the poem"Blurbs" is
available there along excepts from her other works. Which Brings Me To You is a great
bittersweet blend of wit,passion and heart and my only regret is that the rest of
you will have to wait until spring to enjoy this very funny valentine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The missing ingrediant in Oprah's Book Club Mix

Yesterday,after rocking out to Neil Diamond(quite the image to have imprinted on
your eyes),Oprah announced her new Book club title:Night by Elie Wiesel. She chose
the new translation out by FSG as her "official" copy(there is a mass market one
still available)and also mentioned two other things:she's planning a trip with Mr.
Wiesel to Auschwitz(fun times ahead)and a high school essay contest with Night as
the theme. 50 kids(with their parents)will be selected to go to Chicago for a very
special Oprah show with Elie Wiesel.

Now,I have nothing against Night or Elie Wiesel;I've never read the book but have
heard many good things about it. It doesn't appeal to me,personally,for two good
reasons-a)I've read plenty of fiction/nonfiction on the subject already and b)it
seems really depressing. Reason B leads me to conclude what truly bugs me about
Oprah's Book club:there's no fun in it at all.

I've known many people in reading groups and I've taken part in an online version
(at the Republic of Pemberley)and while folks like to pick smart books to talk about
,they also try to enjoy what they're reading. Many times,a group will recover from
a not so successful book discussion by picking something completely different than
what they're used to. They shake things up or go back to a past favorite for the
pleasure of it.

Even in my ROP group,we liven up our Group Reads with great side activities-our
last Jane Austen book was Persuasion and the Group leader held a weekly haiku
contest; she gave us a topic based on what chapters we were reading that week
and all the haikus were posted and voted on via e-mail.Yes, I submitted a few
and No,I didn't win but had a good time doing it. Little Sister even helped me
with the syllable count(coming up with an exact 17 is tricker than you think)
and she's not into Austen at all.

When we read Emma last(for me,it was the first time to discuss Emma with others),
one of our group would post recipes mentioned in the book(Emma has quite a few
food references)and research how meals were prepared,sugar storage,etc. Even for
non-Jane titles(yes,we do pick books other than Jane's to keep things lively),we
have great discussions and if there's a film version,we compare and contrast both
towards the end of the GR. Next week,we're reading Horace Walpole's Gothic novel
The Castle of Oranto to put us in the mood for Northanger Abbey. I'm not the only
one looking forward to that,I'm sure.

It may seem like very schoolroom stuff but it's alot more entertaining than what
Oprah proposes-a key phrase that stuck out in my mind from her praise of Night was
'This book is mandatory reading for humanity"
The word"mandatory" I equate with gym class-you have to take it and you can't get
out of it,like it or not. Encouraging people to read a book that you feel is import
-ant is one thing,demanding that they read it in order to be better people is not
what the joy of reading is about.

Oprah's contest is all very well and good but I'm not impressed. For one,Night is
already required reading in many schools(there's even Cliff's Notes for it) and
her prize should like something maybe Rory Gilmore would enjoy. Basically,Oprah's
giving high school kids more homework-I went to her website and check out the entry
form; the essay has to be a thousand words on numbered,typewritten pages. Nothing
wrong with that but at the bottom of the form,both student and parent have to sign
a waiver saying that Harpo Entertainment owns 100% of anything submitted to use in
anyway they want. In other words,Oprah and Company can take these essays(winners and
non-winners alike)and perhaps,publish them in book form without having to give these
kids a dime.

Sure,they get a free trip to Chicago and meet a famous author but that just seems
like a fancy class trip to me. If Oprah can give away a bunch of cars,why not set
up a scholarship fund for some of these kids? What about the kids who put in the
work and don't win? If Harpo owes the copyright,can they use the essay for college
transcripts or credit? Can they use their essay to apply for scholarships if Oprah
owes the copyright? Something to think about here.

Anyway,my point is that Oprah seems to have forgotten a basic need when selecting
her book du jour-reading is fundamental,true but "fun" is what changes reading from
a chore into a delight.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Another Manic Monday

Ok,quite a few things to focus on this week,so here's what you can look forward to
on the entertainment front:

Oprah's new Book Club selection will be announced today-she usually does her BC section
near the end of the show but I'll be doing alot of channel flipping nonetheless at the
four o'clock hour. She's already made statements supporting James Frey but that doesn't
mean she won't mention it before the Big Announcement! Hopefully,whatever book she puts
her label on this time is good and readable.

Tonight,the Golden Globes will be presented on NBC,with plenty of glitz,glam and celebrity hangers-on blather. Things to watch for:bad fashion choices(I miss the Bob
Mackie days-Cher in her Moonstruck Oscar outfit was his masterpiece),celebs pushing
current and upcoming projects,overdone praise for Brokeback Mountain(I love the movie
but it's getting a serious case of OverHypetitis)and drunken speechmaking(my favorite).

New episodes of Veronica Mars will start on January 25,so if you've been more than
patiently waiting,you only have another week to hold on. Lucy Lawless will be making
a guest appearance(yep,Xena arrives to conquer Neptune!)on this episode entitled
"Donut Run". The rumors are that Duncan will be leaving the show,which is fine with
me since we got Wallace back(Little Sister and I actually applauded when he popped
back in at the end of the Christmas/New Year episode)and I think Veronica should
be with Leo or Weevil anyway,romance wise. Sorry,Logan lovers,but the young Mr.
Echolls is just a ticking timebomb,in my opinion.

On a final note,one of the more notable actresses of our time,Shelley Winters passed
away recently. She wrote a two part autobiography that's worth looking around for(the lady tells some great stories)and if you want to catch a good film of hers,try either
A Place In the Sun or an early debut,A Double Life,in which she worked with the legendary Ronald Colman(see title link). Granted,most folks will remember her reoccuring role as Nana Mary on Roseanne but those episodes were nothing to be
ashamed of-certainly better than having your last film being Streetfighter or Trog.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More on the Frey fracas and other book news

So I watched Larry King Live with James Frey defending his book along with his mom(who
joined him towards the end)and was throughly nauseated. Frey seemed like he was on auto
pilot,repeating such things as"It's only about 18 pages out of a 432 page book"(we didn't need a page count there,James but thanks)and"It's a book about alcoholism and
drug addiction"(Gee,that's a shocker-thought Million Little Pieces was about knitting or somehing like that!). In the World According to Frey,it's apparently ok to lie about
your life just as long as it's a small amount. Of course,the big dramatic moment was
when the Great and Powerful Oprah called in to cover herself and blame the publisher for not verifying the facts(nice,Oprah-nobody's going to resent you for that,no!). Well,at the very least,this whole mess started the new year off with a bang.

In other book news,The DaVinci Code is finally coming out in paperback on March 28.
It's been in hardcover for over two years now,I believe,following the tradition of
other Bestseller Babes such as Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil,Angela's Ashes
and Tuedays With Morrie. DVC will be in massmarket and my main curiousity about it
is will it have a movie cover(movie's due out later this year)or the usual reproduction of the hardcover jacket? Inquiring minds want to know.

And finally,Eragon the movie is in production with an official website(see title link)-I liked the first book but haven't gotten to the second one yet. I plan on
reading it before the film version comes out anyway. The movie's stars include John
Malkavich and Joss Stone,which doesn't make me sigh with despair but doesn't make
my heart go pitter-pat either. Hey,a dragon and his boy flick sounds like something
we could use to chase the real world blues away:)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Liar,liar,book on fire!

Yes,the Emperor has no clothes-James Frey,the current Oprah darling has been exposed
by The Smoking Gun as not being quite the ex-junkie jailhouse badass portrayed in his
memoir,A Million Little Pieces. Million Little Pieces(and his fictional follow-up,My
Friend Leonard)did some sweet business after being anointed by Oprah as her"daring"
Book Club Pick. Frey's mom was even planted in the audience to make the announcement
more melodramatic(she was a model of restraint compared to Tom Cruise,Couch Jumper

You can read the TSG report in the title link-it's very detailed and clearly shows
what a phoney baloney this guy was. Memoirs have been getting some backlash over the
last few years,due to the overabundance of them in the marketplace and Frey's fakery
doesn't help matters none. If you want to read a good credible memoir,I recommend The
Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. It's a moving,honest story about her parents who pur-
posely chose to live in total poverty and dragged their kids recklessly along for the
ride. Jeanette made a better life for herself and still loves her folks. She keeps
trying to help her mother out(her father passed away)but Mom refuses to change.

Glass Castle's coming out in paperback soon-if Oprah's smart,she'll redeem herself
from the Frey diaster by highlighting Wall's much better book.

UPDATE:Frey will be making an appearance on Larry King Live tonight at 9:00. This
should be fun.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Down the Maze of Memories with Rona Jaffe

Recently,writer Rona Jaffe passed away in the city of London-she was 73 and best
known for such novels as The Best of Everything and Class Reunion. I've read The
Best of Everything a few months ago(there was a trade paperback reprint tied in
to promote the DVD release of the film version which starred Joan Crawford) and
when I was younger,I recall enjoying Rona's other books,too.

One of my personal favorites was Mazes and Monsters. Mazes and Monsters was about
four college kids who got too intense with their RPG(Role Playing Game to those
not in the know)and one of them went insane. This was around the time that D&D
was all the rage and most folks thought it was the equilivent of Marilyn Manson.

I was never into D&D but I did enjoy the book-basically,the four friends had
probelms in their lives that the M&M game gave them escape from. Since one of
them was a girl(Kat),naturally a love triangle popped up when she became more to
Daniel,the more stable and datable of the bunch. Robbie,the guy she broke up
with took it calmly since he was more involved in his mental breakdown at the
time. Jay Jay,the token poor little rich boy,gets the idea to stage a real life
version of the game at the abandoned local caves which further leads poor Robbie
into playing with madness.

I haven't read the book in years(got rid of my copy long ago during one of
my literary purges)but I not only have fond feelings towards it but also the
tv movie version which apparently has made it's DVD debut. Tom Hanks was in it
which explains why the movie survived and his face is plastered all over the
cover. CBS was the network that originally showed it,I believe,and yes,it was
rather hokey but entertaining. I actually found a fan site for the M&M movie
(linked in the title above)and glad to see that others still hold some fanboy
love for this semisweet cautionary tale.

Rona Jaffe will be dismissed by some as one of those"women's fiction" authors but
she was not some Jaqueline Susann clone-Rona wrote good dramatic stories that gave
a girl somewhere to go and live outside her particular boundaries. Also,she set up
a foundation for women writers that has to date given out $500,000 since 1995. I'm
not nominating her for sainthood but I do think she paved the way for current authors
like Maeve Binchy,Debbie Macomber and Jodi Picoult to gather an audience for women
to share in lives that maybe similar to their own or at the very least,identifiable.

I hope that some of Rona's other books will get rediscovered and that a new generation enjoys the best of everything she had to offer.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Popping corn at the trailer park

Even tho August is offically Bad Movie Month,The midwinter season has plenty
of putrid plums to offer up at the boxoffice. Instead of rehashing what's
currently rotting on the vine(Grandma's Boy,anyone?),let's look to the
future and see if there's any hope on the horizon:

Catch and Release:This flick is due out in April,starring Mrs. Ben Affleck
as a bride to be whose wedding plans went sour and now she's doing the self
discovery thing. Looks like your typical chick flick and since it looks way
less dippy than 13 going on 30,I'ld give it a chance(Little Sister would
rather eat a salad first-she hates salad,claims it's like dining on leaves).
Also,any movie that gives Kevin Smith a supporting role(you just know that
Violet and Harley are going to have playdates) even trapped in tie dye hell,
is worth a look.

Marie Antionette:The Kirsten Dunst biopic is due in the fall and the trailer
is rather attention-getting;it's like watching either a very hip promo for
the History Channel or the MTV version of PreRevolutionary France. Granted,
this is a Sophia Coppola movie and that the sets and costumes look properly
period yet this flick has an odd duck feeling to it. Should be something to

Bubble:I checked out this trailer for the upcoming Steven Sodebergh film at
Apple trailers and not only is weird(numerous shots of doll parts)but looks
more like an opening credits sequence than a trailer. I'm all for not giving
away the plot but you gotta give me something to work with here,people!

Lady in the Water:Both Little Sister and I have seen this promo for the new
M.Knight film and agreed that it looks good. Nice intriguing set-up,keeps
the element of mystery going without being off-putting and Paul Giametti
as the star,I'm already waiting on line.

X3:I'm of two minds about this:the trailer does have some kick-ass moments
(Dark Phoenix,yes!)and I adore Ian McKellan as Magneto,however the change
of director has me concerned. Also,I suspect that Halle Berry's big contrib
-ution to the story is her new haircut. We'll just have to wait and see.

V is for Vendetta:This film has been delayed due to the dark political plot
and Alan Moore(the writer who created the graphic novel on which it's based)
has denounced it(then again,he hates any adaptation of his work)but I have
seen the second trailer for this bad boy which makes eager to slap down
some cash to watch this afternoon delight unfold on the big screen. Go
to the offical website linked in the title and mourn not the cinema slop
being tossed out to the masses but rejoice in the glory yet to come.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Revisiting Shakespeare & Co

I first discovered Jeremy Mercer's memoir,Time Was Soft There:A Paris Sojourn at
Shakespeare & Co,thru my e-mail. St Martin's has a reading sampler group called
Read-It-First! Club which sends you excepts from their latest releases on a
weekly basis hosted by Suzanne Beecher,who writes the daily intro(which are
worth reading on their own,even if you're not that keen on this week's book).

Mercer's book is not about the old school Sylvia Beach run Shakespeare & Co but
the current Parisan bookstore started up ten years after Sylvia had to shut her
doors(think of it as the Star Trek: The Next Generation version) and owned by
George Whitman,who did met with Sylvia Beach before her death and even named
his daughter after her.

Mercer wound up in Paris a few years ago when his crime reporting work in Canada
lead him into some rough times and a death threat. Shakespeare & Co is a haven
for writers,artists and drifters who are allowed to live at the store with George's
approval and the provision that everyone helps out at the store,from running the
register to clearing up at the end of the day(which is around midnight). The store's motto is"Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise" which
tends to attract quite a few characters to the place to give the store some atmosphere.

Mercer introduces you to some of them such as Kurt,the always-trying-to-sell-his
screenplay writer with an eye for the ladies,Nadia,one of the many talented and
beautiful women that flock to the shop and seem to have a spotlight effect on
the fellas and Simon,resident poet who dwells in the antiquarian room. Jeremy
bonds with him when one of his first assignments from George is to evict Simon.
Needless to say,Simon sticks around for awhile.

Besides learning what life is like at Shakespeare & Co(which was pretty run like
a commune),you get first hand lessons on how to live cheaply in Paris:where to
find places to shower,use the bathroom and the blackmarket jobs that can give
you a little cash. There's also plenty of tips on low cost eating such as Tuee,
the Sandwich Queen who will sell two large(but not quite fresh)sandwiches and a
drink for only twenty francs(when she raised the price to twenty four francs due
to the tourist crowd,there was some lamenting amongst the regulars).

Of all the people described in TWST,the most compelling is George,a man who's mercurial yet openhearted nature lead him to setting up one of the biggest
literary legacies in the world. Mercer was his confidante at times and his
take on George is better than any documentary film maker's for the clarity
and respect given the subject.

If you're interested in the original Shakespeare & Co,the best books to read are
Noel Riley Fitch's Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation and Sylvia Beach's own
memoir,Shakespeare and Company(hopefully it's still in print). You don't need to
read them before checking out this wonderful little book that gives you a taste
of bohemian Paris and booklore right at your fingertips.