Literary Review

A Young One Grows Up

overtaken.jpgIf you know Alexei Sayle, you know him as one of the loonies in the early '80s shaggy dog English sitcom The Young Ones. And don't worry, if you haven't seen it, today's erstwhile comedy writers who try to craft sitcoms that will stave off the Internet have seen the program. But whether or not you've seen this cauldron of anarchy -- punker, hippie, businessman, etc., squatting together in Thatcherite angst -- you wouldn't necessarily have pegged Sayle, one of its stalwarts, as a writer of books. And not just a writer of books, a writer of fiction books, and good ones. Read more »

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., November 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007

kurt_vonnegut_jrKurt Vonnegut died Wednesday from brain injuries sustained after a fall. So it goes. He was initially filed under science fiction. He wrote in The New York Times in 1965, "I learned from the reviewers that I was a science-fiction writer. I didn't know that. I supposed that I was writing a novel about life, about things I could not avoid seeing and hearing in Schenectady, a very real town, awkwardly set in the gruesome now. I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station. The way a person gets into this drawer, apparently, is to notice technology. The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works."  Read more »

Blasting Through the Doors of Perception

beyond_sight.jpgTalk about high concept -- how about a photography book by blind photographers? You read that correctly, people who can't see (or are substantially sight-impaired) taking pictures. Not just people, teenagers -- the most perceptive stage of being known to man (and woman.) Needless to say, when Tony Deifell, the author/curator of the essential book Seeing Beyond Sight, broached the topic with the outreach director of the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in 1992, she thought he was pulling a prank. The results are anything but. Read more »

Debora Spar: The Baby Business

baby_biz.jpgOne of the more important and timely books of last year, The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception (Harvard Business School Press) doesn't seem to be coming out in paperback. In fact, you can grab the hardcover for $6.62 on Amazon. Where's the fairness in that? The masses should be in an uproar.

Anyway, I caught up with its author, the stylish Debora Spar, as she was treading the pathways of City College in upper Manhattan. She was there to lecture a group of young undergraduate feminist theorists. Read more »

Gray's Anatomy

gray_dylan.jpgThe Bob Dylan Encyclopedia by Michael Gray (Continuum)

Like a bloody train wreck, some books just have an inevitable likelihood of being written. They are labors of twisted love and devotion holding a virtually pornographic fascination for both the writer and his audience. Dense and devotional, it is no coincidence that this weighty tome resembles a cross between a dictionary, a Bible, and a pathology manual. Read more »

Korporate Komedy Koup!

blackberry.jpgNapoleon couldn't conquer Britain. Neither could Hitler. But the Blackberry (tm) has accomplished what neither of these maniacs could. What's worse, it brought with it the bilge of American corpo-speak and created in its wake cadres of globalist, Golf-worshiping business-types. As a result, the land of Shakespeare has educated people running around spouting rubbish like "best in class," "core competencies," and "benchmarking."

Lucy Kellaway's recent e-mail novel, Who Moved My Blackberry, creates a laff-riot by tracing a year in the life of one Martin Lukes, proud author of the concept of "Creovation" (tm). Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: "Howl" Published Fifty Years Ago

howlAllen Ginsberg's "Howl," published in Howl and Other Poems in November 1956 (the fourth item in the famous City Lights Pocket Poets series), is the most influential and iconic poem of the past half-century.

It went into the world with a wonderful introduction penned by fellow New Jerseyite and poet William Carlos Williams, who did as good a job as an establishment poet could of preparing an unsuspecting world for the force that was about to realign it: "Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it." And, "He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt. He contains it."

Read more »

Pensee-ing About Topic A

sexual_pensees.jpgTalk about value for money -- Bruce Jay Friedman's new book may be slim on words, but it's packed with stories, about 200 of them at my count. Sexual Pensees is a collection of snippets, koans, aphorisms, proverbs, apocryphal tales, and blind items to titillate even the most chaste among us. From Hollywood eccentricities to a particularly delicious morsel involving the WWII singing sensations the Andrews Sisters, the book will keep you in stitches.

It's remarkable how Friedman, the multi-talented writer of everything from movies (Splash, The Lonely Guy, Doctor Detroit), to plays, to novels, to short stories (Neil Simon adapted Friedman's hilarious story Read more »

Steven Dalachinsky: The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse)

dalachinskyWhile poetry and jazz have gone together longer than chocolate and peanut butter, poetry about jazz is usually about as interesting as the poetry -- and, for that matter, the jazz, the chocolate, and the peanut butter -- you get from high school students. From a really bad school. On an off day.

Thankfully, this new poetry collection from jazz fan Steve Dalachinsky -- all of which was written while he listened to avant-garde saxophonist Charles Gayle perform -- usually isn't about the music. With a few exceptions, Dalachinsky instead takes inspiration from the music -- from its tones, structures, and moods -- in how he writes, not what he writes about. And that, to quote a poem he didn't write, makes all the difference in the world. Especially since Gayle's playing could've inspired some truly terrible poetry.  Read more »

The Other Zweibel

shulman.jpgThere is no question that Alan Zweibel is a funny guy. Hell, he was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, before anyone could say, "Remember when it was good?" It was good then. He hob-nobs with Garry Shandling (perhaps he even had a hand in the original jingle for Shandling's original show, one of the funniest ever; if memory serves, it went something like, "This is the song for the Garry Shandling Show, this is the catchy title song for the Garry Shandling Show"...funny). He's buds with Larry David, had a huge hand in Billy Crystal's smash Broadway play. Read more »

Tall Tales

crashing.jpgThere's no doubt that Harvey Araton loves basketball, especially professional basketball. He's been covering the game for the last thirty years as a New York sportswriter; grew up playing basketball and continues to share his enthusiasm as a fan with his sons.

His book Crashing the Borders: How Basketball Won the World and Lost its Soul at Home is a reflection of both his genuine passion and keen understanding of the game. Unfortunately, the angry tone and polemical structure of the book mitigate the effectiveness of these attributes, which would have been much better utilized in a straightforward historical narrative such as John Taylor's The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball or, given Araton's personal history and closeness to the game, a memoir. Read more »

Tom Savage/Steve Dalachinsky/Yuko Otomo: Bowery Poetry Club, NYC

savage.jpgThis evening was a book release party for Tom Savage's Bamiyan Poems. A limited edition chapbook (nearly sold out already) with a beautiful cover, it's published by Sisyphus Press, run by Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo (the cover artist), the dynamic duo of the downtown poetry scene. All three read, with the honoree leading off the night with the longest slot in the program.

Bamiyan Poems was written in Afghanistan during a 1970 trip to the Bamiyan Budhhas, the two largest Buddha statues in the world. These imposing figures with a colorful history were a long-time attraction until the Taliban blew them up in 2000 for violating Islam's rule against idols. Read more »

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan DidionOn December 30, 2003, Joan Didion's husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died in her living room. Her only daughter, Quintana, was hospitalized at the time, and several weeks after her apparent recovery, she was once again rushed to the hospital for treatment of a potentially fatal hematoma. She showed signs of recovery, but died in August of 2005. Out of these events, Joan Didion has crafted her memoir of grief, The Year of Magical Thinking.

As in her famous essay "The White Album," which dealt with her own mental breakdown in the context of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, Didion applies steady, relentless, dispassionate prose to an agony past imagining. Read more »

The First Hippie?

First HippieMy new years resolution, in addition to starting smoking, is to try to review more current, contemporary, hot of the presses, bestsellers. But the new year is still young and I recently finished The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I don't have to tell you it's a classic. But have you read it? Recently? I didn't see any of the movies of it -- especially the one Bill Murray made before his revival. But I like Maugham's superb short stories. So... 

A quick WIA (what it's about): Rich people in industrial Chicago between the wars. Rich people in Paris. And one broken man's upsetting the apple cart of all his expectations - a "best and brightest of his generation" type guy who decides his goal in life is "loafing." And then watching it morph into a spiritual search -- touched with more than a little magic. Read more »

Lenny Bruce Has a Very Bad Cold

Lenny BruceI couldn't believe my luck when I read that Jonathan Goldstein's novella Lenny Bruce is Dead was being published in America (sometime around March, by Perseus Books). Until now, only the Canadians (those lucky Canadians!) had access to it. I had discovered Goldstein's writing in the"Funny Pages" section of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. While I have to admit I found the graphic novel and the serialized story somewhat heavy sledding, Goldstein's two first-person humorous essays were hilarious, fresh, and inspiring. I hoped there was a book by him. Read more »

Syndicate content