What Happened by Scott McClellan

May 30th, 2008 at 6:50 am

There was a media furor yesterday over a book.

Yes, a book.

By media furor I mean that the cable news channels and Internet had something to talk about.

Normally I’d be as surprised as you that a book would have such an impact, but this isn’t just any book and any author.

Cover of What Happened by Scott McClellan

This is What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception by former George W. Bush White House Spokesman Scott McClellan.

The 341-page book is evidently a scathing damnation of Bush’s War in Iraq, outing of Valerie Plame, handling of Hurricane Katrina, and probably pretty much everything our president has done in the past seven years.

Honestly, Scott. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

9 out of 10 people in this country could have written this book at this point, Scott. George W. Bush and his war-mongering aides did bad, nasty things?

9 out of 10 people in this country, Scott, are muttering underneath their breath to you, “No shit, Sherlock.”

Why didn’t Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine have this kind of impact? Again: The Lucky Get Kevlar. The Rest Get Prayer Beads.

And why didn’t Scott McClellan do something about this when he was working for the administration?

I think Scott McClellan is a coward. McClellan says that he wrote this book because he has a loyalty to the truth. He didn’t have an allegiance to the truth when working in the White House? Clearly not. There are far too many former White House staffers coming out of this administration to only cry foul after the fact.

But I guess it’s not a bad plan for otherwise untalented and spineless hack aspiring writers looking to make a buck on a book deal: get a job as a crony for a corrupt, incompetent, and morally depraved administration and write a tell-all bestseller.

After the damage has been done. After people’s lives have been ruined and lost. After its too late.

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

May 25th, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Cover of Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

After reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay some years ago, I promptly became a devoted disciple of Michael Chabon. If I was well read and given to making sweeping generalizations, I would be inclined to declare Chabon the greatest living writer. Such as it is, I avoid committing to sweeping generalizations and still have a lot more reading to do before I declare a Greatest Living Writer. And by then they’ll be dead so I’ll have to keep reading. Alas,

I recommend Kavalier and Clay to anyone who listens (and even to some who don’t). But when recommending Kavalier and Clay, I always recommend a supplementary volume to accompany one’s reading of Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel: a dictionary. You see, Michael Chabon has an extensive vocabulary. Saying that Chabon knows a lot of words would be like saying the ocean has a lot of water molecules in it. The dude’s diction is hot! And don’t get me started on the boy’s syntax. That shit is off the hook, dawg.

Word Choice. It’s kind of what writers are supposed to be good at. But Chabon is better. His sentences and words are just always so damn perfect. As an aspiring writer, Chabon intimidates me to no end because I know I will never be as good as him. If I were a writer, I would want to write like him. But Chabon already writes like Chabon, so what’s the point, right? I read Chabon and find myself muttering slurs to him out of sheer disdain and jealousy.

Chabon has been a bit prolific as of late. Following Kavalier and Clay, there was Final Solution. Then The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Then Gentlemen of the Road. And now Maps and Legends, his first work of non-fiction. And with Maps and Legends, Chabon has not relented with his impressive vocabulary. There are words like arriviste, appurtenances, pasquinade, asymptotically, punctilio, priggish, peregrinations, bathyspheric, aetataureate, and empyrean. But some words are even too obscure for Chabon, so he defines them. Which he does upon using anagnorisis (moment of recognition). His definitions sometimes serve a point, as they do when he reminds us that excoriated literally means “to have one’s skin removed.”

At one point Chabon uses the phrase “baby murder.” This usage struck me as odd. Why didn’t he use “infanticide?” “Infanticide” is a perfectly fine word. But upon further counsel and thought, I decided that “baby murder” was a far superior choice of words. “Baby murder” captures a sentiment in the reader that “infanticide” would not. And that is Chabon’s great skill. He knows all the words and he knows how to use them and when to use them and when to use their definitions.

Published by McSweeney’s, Maps and Legends is a simply beautiful book. McSweeney’s seems to be settling on a cohesive aesthetic because the cover of Maps and Legends carries striking similarities to Bowl of Cherries with its partial dust jacket that reveals the actual book cover. Which I’m a fan of. I hate dust jackets. They’re so stupid. Why do we need them? That’s why What is the What is so great. Besides being a fantastic book, it has no dust jacket. Just a small band on the back cover for blurbs.

Throughout the essays that comprise Maps and Legends, Chabon champions “genre fiction” in general and ghost stories, science fiction, graphic novels, short stories, and comics in particular. The very first essay is a true winner with Chabon analyzing the modern short story, the entertainment industry and encouraging all of us to be better readers and critics. He provides some analysis of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and even weighs in on the recent spate of fibbing memoirists with a story of his own that acknowledges his vocation as a “professional liar.” Chabon describes this particular essay’s subject as “the interrelationship between truth and lies, memory and invention, history and story, memoir and fiction, the sources of narrative and the storytelling impulse; the inevitable fate of liars to be swallowed up or crushed by their lies; and the risks inherent both in discounting the power of outright fiction to reveal the truths of a life, and in taking at face value the fictions that writers of memoir present as fact.”

Get Michael Chabon on Oprah. James Frey wishes he was this articulate and eloquent.

Tropic Thunder

May 22nd, 2008 at 8:48 am

Have you seen the trailer to Tropic Thunder?

Go ahead and watch it.

Tropic Thunder Poster

Wow. How long was that trailer? The actual movie can’t be much longer….

And how postmodern. A movie about a movie making a movie. Movie stars playing movie stars. Cliches of cliches. Pastiche of pastiche.

Hollywood is an incestuous, vain beast. I think you can actually get a glimpse of Hollywood bending over to suck its own dick in that trailer. What depressed me the most is that Hollywood clearly knows how depraved it is and glorifies itself in self-serving, self-fulfilling doggerel like this.

Self-satire? Self-mockery? I’ll have to wait and see it to decide how “smart” it is, but judging from Zoolander, Stiller will probably hit it out of the park. But how can he so blatantly allude to Platoon and Apocalypse Now when those are classic, universally praised movies that don’t pander to the low-brow, obtuse perspective that Tropic Thunder seeks to criticize?

Too bad Owen Wilson had to go and try to kill himself. He would have been good in that role. I’m sure he’ll be stellar in the adaptation of Marley & Me too. And for further irony, the director/writer Ben Stiller, selflessly stepped in to take on the starring role in Wilson’s absence. Woohoo. Just the kind of behavior of a Hollywood-type that he mocks in the movie.

A few more thoughts:

Robert Downey Jr. is quite possibly Brilliant. He looks exactly like Don Cheadle. Are we sure that isn’t actually Don Cheadle?

Robert Downey Jr.’s character undergoes a “controversial” operation to make him actually look like a black person. He then proceeds to spout Ebonics and display black stereotypes and prejudices. Which would have been a daring move on the movie’s part to project something so potentially offensive, but they sugarcoat it by having a black co-star present to authentically point out the blunders and mistakes. Too safe. It would have been far more impressive to let Downey’s character writhe about alone in his awkward mess. Especially since Jack Black’s character prominently mocks the franchises of Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. And this after Jack Black went black face for Be Kind Rewind.

Seems a bit racialist.

And isn’t it rather odd in a time of war that this is the movie that Hollywood makes? We haven’t even had a decent movie analyzing the 1st Gulf War (Jarhead? Three Kings?), much less one that properly addresses the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we still don’t have one. Instead we have this farce, Tropic Thunder. Which is fine. It’ll be funny and done well enough, but why can’t Hollywood spend just as much time criticizing and analyzing the world as it does itself?

Hollowed-Out Books

May 21st, 2008 at 9:22 am

Books are not just for reading.

Sometimes they are coasters. Sometimes they are doorstops. Sometimes they are paper weights. Sometimes they are mere decoration and space filler. They make you look smart, you know. Sometimes books are bookshelves.

And sometimes books are hollowed out and used by Australian wildlife smugglers to mail geckos to Europe.

Ahhh, the hollowed-out book motif continues. It was infamously used in the movie The Shawshank Redemption to conceal a hammer.

What other instances are there of books being hollowed out to hide something?

And what other brilliant uses of books are there other than simply reading them? I think they make for great projectiles. They have unrivaled heft, and the sight and sound of an open book with its pages fluttering through the air is a beautiful image.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

May 20th, 2008 at 7:26 am

Just as I put down a recent New Yorker containing a typically Sedarisian (funny, entertaining, whimsical) essay about smoking, I come to learn that his new collection of essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, culminates in an essay about him quitting smoking.

Writers come from a long lineage of destructive behavior, cigarette smoking being the most necessary of props for a tormented life of professional scribbling. So why should Sedaris give up now? It seems to be a bit of a literary betrayal.

John SteinbeckHunter S. ThompsonDavid Sedaris

Was it in the movie The Freshman that a professor forced his creative writing students to smoke as they wrote? Because that’s how writers do it, right?

But beyond David’s title waffling and contradictory quitting, what is most peculiar is that the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames appears to be a skeleton smoking a joint:

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Has David Sedaris forgone nicotine and tobacco in favor of the harder stuff?

With smoking being such an integral fixture of a writer’s image, shouldn’t he just have upgraded to a Gamucci?

With cigarette smoking clearly on its way of alchemy, who are some of the most legendary smoking writers? Who looks the coolest?

Woman Who Remembers Every Day of Her Life to Publish Memoir

May 16th, 2008 at 8:01 am

Jill Price has a condition called hyperthymestic syndrome. As a result, she can remember everything that happened to her.

Can you imagine a more painful curse? Isn’t the success of our civilization predicated on the fact that we forget? Can you imagine anything more boring?

Well, Price is publishing her memoir, “The Woman Who Can’t Forget,” which is sure to be a grueling, unredeemable, shall I say, forgettable endeavor.

The Woman Who Can\'t Forget

Certainly the memoir is just the first step in getting this story to the big screen in which Kathy Bates will play Jill Price in a harrowing tale of epiphany and love that will remind you of an inverted re-telling of Awakenings and Memento. Paul Haggis will direct.

And Jill Price is not alone. Radio news reporter Brad Williams has the same, memorable condition.

No thanks.

There’s a reason most of us cannot remember large chunks of adolescence and banal details from our existence. Because we were consuming controlled substances in large quantities and/or because it does not matter and no one cares.

No one cares! It does not matter! Isn’t this what Wikipedia and Google are for?

Things are forgotten because they are forgettable.

The Essential Man’s Library

May 14th, 2008 at 8:46 pm

The men over at The Art of Manliness have compiled a list of 100 Must-Read Books.

Though these types of things are quite popular and rather foolish, I particularly admire the accompanying photography. They did a great job including older versions of the books and some appealing artsy shots.

As is of course always the case, there are some glaring omissions:

No Where the Red Fern Grows?

No Hunter S. Thompson???

But I’m pretty satisfied because there is the Boy Scout Handbook and The Hatchet alongside perennial list-inclusions like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are some questionable inclusions too of course:

A Separate Peace?


A Confederacy of Dunces?


Punctuation is Sexy

May 9th, 2008 at 6:10 am

SackWear Punctuation is Sexy

Thanks to Alison Morris at Publisher’s Weekly for this.

The spermy commas doing the nasty is from the dirty little minds at SackWear.

Let’s see what they do with the ampersand and semicolon and hope they leave the asterisk alone. It’s a filthy little piece of punctuation as it is already.

Punctuation is Sexy! Reading is Sexy!


May 7th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

So there’s this new movie coming out from the hard working people at Pixar called Wall-E. Perhaps you’ve heard of the hard working people at Pixar? They’re renowned for making “good” movies like Ratatouille, Cars, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc, A Bug’s Life, and the Toys Story.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Wall-E. It comes out June 27, 2008.

I liked Wall-E the first time when it was called Short Circuit.

Wall-E poster

Short Circuit poster

And the second time when it was called Short Circuit 2.

What was wrong with Short Circuit? Sure, Toy Story was a cute movie, but does it star Steve Guttenberg? Maybe they should have called it Shorty-C…

But if the hard working people at Pixar are so brilliant, why does Wall-E look like Johnny Five?

Wall-EShort Circuit

Sony’s going to sue somebody!

And there is no possible way that Wall-E will be able to compete with Short Circuit. It has one of the finest lines in the history of cinema:

“Hey, laser lips, your mother was a snow blower!”