January 2009

Review of Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King

     I actually finished a book last week. My partner and I subscribe to about six or seven magazines, so sometimes we find it difficult to reign ourselves in from distraction from longer works, both fiction and non. For the record, she is much better at avoiding distraction from novels than I and somehow manages to read longer, more densely written novels in the time it would take me to read a no less complex but much shorter novel like Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow. Two years ago the opposite was true. It would seem that she gains cerebral acuity while I, sadly, am losing it.

Review of Alan Moore's Watchmen

I am, like many nerds and other such people that are awesome, extremely excited about the forthcoming adaptation of Watchmen, by Alan Moore. It is bittersweet, for Moore has already said that he has no intentions of viewing this adaptation and (I’m assuming this by his tone) does not really approve of the fact that this film has been made. If you peruse the Wikipedia entry on Moore's greatest work you can study up on his numerous conflicts with publishers involving creative rights, etc. Zack Snyder of 300 fame helmed the whole affair and from the previews the end product looks like something to be reckoned with. But this isn’t really about the film. This is about the graphic novel.

The Heavyweights

Heavyweights are typically read, if at all, in college. Then they are forgotten. If the person keeps reading, perhaps he or she will come across popular lighter books rather than the older, weightier Classic side of things. By heavyweights, I mean the Canon.

Heavyweights are the books you mention at parties that make people say “Oh,” expressively before running off to find a drink rather than talk to the book snob. Mention it the first time you meet someone and you’ll forever be labeled the intellectual, for better of for worse. Often for worse, as heavyweights get a bad rap for being too heavy or too hard to read.

The Heart and Gut of A Writer

I recently had the pleasure of reading the classic, Moby Dick.  I was very proud of myself for finishing it as, while everyone has heard of the book, most people I meet have only read sections of it or they only made it to that first famous sentence, "Call me Ishmael." Call me crazy, but I feel this book gets unfairly put down by many people, including avid readers.  Sometimes it is seen as an "elitist" book that only professors or literary snobs enjoy.  I have heard people call it many things, although the main criticism seems to be that it is "boring" and "nothing happens."  One specific time comes to mind when I was reading it on the bus.  Someone asked me if I was reading it for school or fun.  The answer was fun and she went on to tell me how much she hated the book.  Then another person joined in on the criticism.  Luckily my stop was next but as I departed they told me to quit now because it will only get worse as the pages turn. Both these people said they read it in high school and it struck me that they shouldn't bother teaching this book to teenagers.  If I had read this in high school, a 600+ page book full of expla

Americans read!

A survey from the National Endowment for the Arts has come out for 2008 with the statistic the percentage of American’s who read is up for the first time since 1982. The survey asks adults over 18 if they have read a book, play, short story or poem in the last year. Today, roughly 50.2 % of Americans read fiction.

This is good news, or is it? The question asks if people have read at least 1 book in the last year. Half the people in this country haven’t read that one book. This figure stands in stark contrast to European reading statistics, which are higher overall. While I won’t restate the cliché that Americans are stupid, I will say that I’m not overly impressed with half the population right now.

Reading On The Rise (Says the NEA)

The American National Endowment for the Arts has released a report on "Reading On The Rise." You may remember last year's report "To Read or Not to Read." This year's report, like those of previous years, is largely based on a survey of a wide range of Americans. Last year's report and the 2004 report "Reading at Risk" were full of despairing news about substantial declines in reading. But this year's report is being presented as the opposite: "a decisive and unambiguous increase" in "literary reading" across the board, with the most dramatic rise (more than 20%) among Hispanic Americans. The reports also says that The 18-to-24-year-old shifted from a 20% decline in reading, in the 2002 survey, to a 21% increase in 2008. The report attributes both increases to community-based reading and awareness programs, particularly their own, which, given the outreach abilities of the NEA strikes me as a bit unlikely to have had that much effect.

The Recession Hits Powell’s Books

The economic crisis has hit every industry hard, but the publishing and bookselling industry - always struggling in the best of times - is really taking a beating. Recently Powell's Books, one of the world's largest independent book retailers, asked its employees to voluntarily take unpaid sabbaticals, or to scale back their hours. Powell's management is currently unwilling to discuss layoffs publicly, but most people assume that layoffs are on the horizon at the "City of Books." The thought of Powell's actually shutting its doors strikes fear into the heart of every reader - or should! Powell's, founded in 1971 by the Powell family, bills itself as "the world's greatest bookstore," and who can argue? Powell's pioneered the method of selling used books alongside new copies. Powell's continued that business model on the internet, where you can find both new and used copies (ranked by condition) listed on each book's page. If a used copy is not available, you can sign up to receive an email alert when a used copy arrives.

From the Page to the Screen

Welcome to the premiere of From the Page to the Screen, a new column that will blend two forms of vastly different but uniquely connected art forms: motion pictures and the written word. To purloin the mission statement of the USC Library's Annual Scripter Awards (now in its twenty-first year) the aim of From the Page to the Screen is to celebrate the written word, creative collaboration and the profound results of transforming one artistic medium into another. Today's column kicks off with a look at the Writers Guild of America Awards for 2008. Based on the noms for Best Adapated Screenplay it has been a fairly dismal year for book-to-film adaptations. Eric Roth was nominated for his big screen adaptation of the slight and not incredibly engaging short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I read the Fitzgerald story in question fifteen years ago in "The Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald" while on a cross-country plane trip (You can read the whole story online here).