April 28, 2004
Isn't this one of the signs of the apocalypse?

"Everybody focuses on Porky's with the raunch, but it wasn't all about the raunch. It was about the relationships," he says. "It was a very affectionate film about guys growing up together and camaraderie and we also dealt with social issues. People don't remember this: Porky's was actually about anti-Semitism."
Embattled radio host Howard Stern plans to produce a remake of Porky's. It's hard to describe the movie to those who haven't seen it. It inspired American Pie, but is completely on another level. It's amazing to think it was made over twenty years ago—Hollywood has still had a tough time topping it. If you were at all disturbed by American Pie, do not watch Porky's. Actually, you probably shouldn't watch Porky's anyway. (Although it does feature a young Kim Cattrall.)

The movie is Canada's top-grossing English-language film.

At the same time some critics were lambasting its lowbrow humour, Cole says, "smart people might have been thinking 'Gee, a Canadian film that makes money. How can we continue to do this?'"
Clearly, nobody was.

The Barbiemobile

Debuting here in D.C. last week was "the first prototype car designed by women for women."

So they say. I'm skeptical. Would a woman buy into all these stereotypes?

The design team decided early on that women preferred not to have to look under the hood, so they moved the access point for the windshield washer fluid reservoir -- the one piece of equipment under the hood that the team presumed the average driver would deal with her- or himself -- to the exterior. In the YCC, fluid can be replenished right next to the gas tank, and with just as much ease as gasoline... The front end of the car is designed to be accessible to a Volvo mechanic, but not the driver, who, to the team's thinking, is not supposed to need access to the engine...

But the dials, buttons, icons and vents that come with conventionally designed (read: male) cars have been removed, streamlined or digitized. The dash has a single dial for speed. No temperature gauge or oil lamp is visible unless something needs fixing. How far the car can go without running out of gas is visible. A control panel, which swivels for easy visibility, allows the driver to punch up a parallel parking feature.

Still, the news isn't all bad:
[T]he headrest had a notch in the middle to accommodate ponytails...

The YCC has a multitude of special compartments for stashing handbags, cell phones, briefcases, laptops, gym bags and music players. And for the ultimate in elegant egress, when the gull-wing doors go up, the sill rotates out and down, so costly stilettos need never brush against a grimy or greased surface -- on the car, anyway...

Leather front seats appeared to float on pedestals. Slim pads in a choice of patterns fit over them and, like the carpeting, could be changed with moods, seasons and needs.

April 27, 2004
Politically incorrect eating

The normally uneaten parts of animals are now the latest culinary thing. "Foie gras, truffles, and other traditional staples of gastronomic excess now find themselves cheek by jowl on upscale menus with, well, cheeks and jowls," Slate reports. Even the Food Network's Molto Mario is in on the action:

When diners at Babbo, Mario Batali's elegant New York Italian restaurant, fork out $10 for "Testa," they're paying top dollar for a substance made by boiling the head of a pig, skimming off bits of brain, gristle, and other effluvia that bubble to the surface, and turning it into a salami.
Such "delicacies" have never been very popular in the United States; Americans have always been rich enough, it seems, to discard them. But then, tanned skin was once a sign of poverty, too.

Anthony Bourdain, of course, is on board. He writes in an introduction to a newly reissued cookbook by a London (where lamb's brains aren't even legal) chef, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, declaring the food is "a thumb in the eye to the establishment, an outrageously timed head butt to the growing hordes of the politically correct, the PETA people, the European Union."

Bon appétit.

April 26, 2004
Thought for the day

“The sight of her seemed an irresistible attack on his own habits, standards, and ambitions.”

—Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
Another reevaluation of the novel in the year of its golden anniversary, this time by the always readable Roger Kimball. Every time I read a review, and the excerpts of the novel therein, I wonder why the rest of us even try.

April 23, 2004
Remembering remainders

I've always wondered what authors feel on seeing their books on remainder tables. Terry Teachout describes his own emotions upon discovering that his book The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken is about to be discounted. He seems much more philosophical about it than I imagine I would be. Perhaps I'd deserve it. I admit to feeling a little twitch of delight when I see remaindered books by authors I dislike (different from books I dislike). But good authors are remaindered, too.

Really, I probably know this better than most. One of my disappointments on moving to the United States was the lack of good remainders—it's really a wasteland here compared to Canada. Particularly Vancouver. You could find great discounted books at A&B Sound, a Best Buy-like store, and there was even a chain, Book Warehouse, devoted specifically to remainders. It often took much willpower not to come home with more books than I could carry. Particularly exciting were the Penguin remainders—they were my introduction to Graham Greene, for example. Nice looking covers, the greatest authors, and at a cheap price—often $3 Canadian. You could even find expensive hardcovers for this price. I have seen pricey Library of America editions for just a few (Canadian) dollars. I purchased a nice hardcover illustrated Jane Austen set quite cheaply. Bookstores here in the States usually have a small selection of discounted books, but that's just it, it's small. And you never see the coveted Penguins.

I've never really understood why there is this difference between the U.S. and Canada. Perhaps one reason is that many of these Penguins were books by British authors, who are more popular in the Commonwealth country. Still, that can't be it entirely, as there were plenty of books available by non-U.K. writers. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Canadians are poorer, and so more likely to be enthusastic buyers of bargain books. Perhaps Canadians are more willing to read outside of the bestseller lists. Still, even all these explanations put together don't quite satisfy me.

There are places you can order remainders online here. Book Closeouts is the best I've found, and their shipping is more reasonable than that of many online sellers. But the books are still more expensive than those in Canada. And frankly, it's just not quite as much fun to shop for remainders online. It's harder to browse leisurely and all at once come across that amazing find as a surprise. Oh, how I miss the thrill of the hunt.

Happy St. George's Day

But don't expect to see any St. Patrick's-style celebrations. As the Telegraph reports:

April 23, his dedicated day, normally passes with little reference to the saint who slayed the dragon. Indeed, one publican, organising a special party to mark St George's Day, was only granted a late licence after agreeing to drop the saint's name from the celebration.
I'm not sure the Telegraph is helping. The paper invites readers to respond in a poll, but gives no indication of why they might want to support a national holiday. Instead, it asks only, "would its promotion lead merely to the rise of unwanted nationalism?"

(link via Dappled Things)

April 22, 2004
Meltdown!

"Courtney Love's recent trouble-filled visit to New York taught us one thing: watching a star self-destruct isn't all that much fun," says MSN Entertainment. Oh, c'mon. Of course it's fun. And if it weren't, why would MSN Entertainment go on to list the "Top 10 Celebrity Meltdowns"?

I think Anne Heche should have made it higher than number seven, however, with the end of her lesbian interlude:

When the cops arrived a short time later, the actress, who had publicly announced the end of her headline-grabbing three-year relationship with DeGeneres the day before, declared she was God and would take everyone back to heaven in her spaceship.
And Whitney Houston at number six? Haven't the last seven years been one long meltdown for Whitney? I really think she's seemed like more of a space alien than her husband, who placed one above her.

But then, you have to wonder about the judgment of someone who writes, "Sheen put the 'demons' in hedonism."

Still, despite the slightly dirty feeling—fun, fun.

Book days

It was a beautiful day today. I originally just went out to take out some garbage and post some mail, but it was so nice, I couldn't resist taking a walk. With a reward in the middle of it, however—visits to a couple of used bookstores. A few good finds, including two by P.G. Wodehouse. However, a slightly depressing experience at the second store. I opened a copy of Bartlett's Poems for Occasions and found an inscription noting that the book was given on a "momentous occasion." I always find it a bit sad when books given as gifts, especially on particular occasions, end up in secondhand shops. But this was even more surprising than usual—the note was dated March 2004. Only one month ago was this book given, and now it's for sale. Was Abby really in such bad straits?

Perhaps I take these things too personally. For this happened to me once. At least I'm fairly confident it did. I once found for sale a book I had given to a former boyfriend for St. Valentine's Day. The first page had been ripped out, so I had no proof that this was the same copy. But the fact that page was ripped out seemed proof enough. And there weren't many copies of Oxford books of Victorian love poetry floating around. Despite the fact I hadn't seen him in some months, my heart broke all over again.

April 21, 2004
Philip Larkin: bad man, but what about the poetry?

When he was 22, Larkin was so piss drunk at a literary reading that he mistakenly decided he was layered up enough to pee himself without anyone noticing. In his 30s, he gained notoriety around Britain's Hull University for his extensive porn collection. And his reputation was sealed when his collected letters revealed a lifelong litany of curse-strewn rants.

All this while serving his entire adult life as a college librarian. Yes, one who wrote novels about lesbians and poems about casual sex, and could never really commit to a woman, lying and cheating even after he'd gone deaf and become his country's most famous poet. But a librarian, nonetheless.

So notes Esquire. And really, that's all they have to say about the poetry, too:
Larkin spoke plainly and eloquently to that lonely man. And he spoke to him as his inner asshole, that crass, stubborn, and yet unavoidably lovable curmudgeon who tends to poke his head out at the most inopportune times.

April 20, 2004
DVD's present and future

An interesting story in The New York Times today on the DVD industry. Movies that do so-so box office can become hits on DVD. The ever-quotable Office Space is the prime example in the story: it made $10 million at the box office (which was also its budget), but has made over $40 million so far on DVD.

Hollywood never fails to find new ways to take our money—

"This is the beauty of having two volumes," said Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax. "`Vol. 1' goes out, `Vol. 2' goes out, then `Vol. 1 Special Edition,' `Vol. 2 Special Edition,' the two-pack, then the Tarantino collection as a boxed set out for Christmas. It's called multiple bites at the apple. And you multiply this internationally." Mr. Tarantino has also cut an alternate version of the movie for Japan.
Of course, the studios are going to have to fight to keep that loot—
The guilds are not the only ones who are demanding their share of the new loot. Talent agents are also demanding that the studio abandon its long-standing formula of calculating profits, in which only 20 percent of revenues from DVD's and videos are used to calculate profit participation for directors and top actors.
The end of the article contains some musings on the future of DVD, with one observer believing it will be the beloved extras that save the format from being destroyed by piracy.

April 19, 2004
From Barnes & Noble to Beverly Hills

My latest Brainwash column is on fiction and film:

Yesterday’s fiction writers have become today’s screenwriters. In an earlier time, a thoughtful, introspective type with a passion for storytelling and a head bubbling with ideas would have been a natural short story writer. But many artists have abandoned the genre in favor of screenplays. Aspiring writers once wanted to become James Joyce or William Faulkner. Surely now they want to become Charlie Kaufman or Joe Eszterhas... [More]

April 18, 2004
Thought for the day

"[H]e could never make up his mind between suicide and an equally drastic course of action known as Father D'Arcy."

—Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means, quoted in Joseph Pearce's Literary Converts

April 16, 2004
Cluing you in

So I see that Quentin Tarantino was a guest judge on American Idol this week. If From Dusk Till Dawn didn't clue you in years ago, here it is: Tarantino is not cool anymore.

April 15, 2004
A grave injustice

Kevin Michael Grace points out that the picture of Padma Lakshmi I provided indirectly by a link below does not do her justice. I agree. Here is a much better one he sent.

Rushdies.bmp

(Photo credit: Nancy Smith)

As Kevin says, "Talk about beauty and the beast!"

April 14, 2004
Salman Rushdie, bit of a celebrity chaser

"'The more places you can put yourself in the better,' he said eagerly in a recent interview."
The Guardian yesterday ran a profile of fatwa-survivor and friend-of-Minogues Salman Rushdie, on the occasion of his forthcoming fourth marriage. I was always a bit fascinated by his relationship with Padma Lakshmi. I knew about her before I heard of their relationship—she used to host a show on the Food Network. I'm not sure why she no longer does. She's certainly better looking than most of their female hosts (and I note this because most of their male hosts are rather attractive), and seemed qualified enough. Model, actress, television cookery host, and... dating perhaps the most famous novelist of the late twentieth century, and a rather serious one at that. And rather older. Of course, the older man-younger woman affair is nothing new, but it seems a bit stranger when the man is regarded as such a serious thinker, and the woman is seen as such fluff. (Martin Amis' wives have been quite attractive, but no one sees them strictly as eye candy.) As The Guardian notes, gossip columnists pronounced their relationship over months ago, with rumors that she wasn't up to snuff intellectually. A very sincere congratulations to him, and best wishes to both.

April 13, 2004
Thought for the day

"Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein...

Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."

—Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

April 11, 2004
Thought for the day

Easter 1916

I

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

II

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse.
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

III

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter, seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute change.
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
And a horse plashes within it
Where long-legged moor-hens dive
And hens to moor-cocks call.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

IV

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse --
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

—William Butler Yeats

April 09, 2004
Thought for the day

Friday's Child

(In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)

He told us we were free to choose
But, children as we were, we thought---
"Paternal Love will only use
Force in the last resort

On those too bumptious to repent."
Accustomed to religious dread,
It never crossed our minds He meant
Exactly what He said.

Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,
But it seems idle to discuss
If anger or compassion leaves
The bigger bangs to us.

What reverence is rightly paid
To a Divinity so odd
He lets the Adam whom He made
Perform the Acts of God?

It might be jolly if we felt
Awe at this Universal Man
(When kings were local, people knelt);
Some try to, but who can?

The self-observed observing Mind
We meet when we observe at all
Is not alariming or unkind
But utterly banal.

Though instruments at Its command
Make wish and counterwish come true,
It clearly cannot understand
What It can clearly do.

Since the analogies are rot
Our senses based belief upon,
We have no means of learning what
Is really going on,

And must put up with having learned
All proofs or disproofs that we tender
Of His existence are returned
Unopened to the sender.

Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again? We dare not say;
But conscious unbelievers feel
Quite sure of Judgement Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face
Just what Appearances He saves
By suffering in a public place
A death reserved for slaves.

—W.H. Auden

Girls gone reading

I must admit, I've always liked the logo of this website. Now I find there's an entire site, Dutch, devoted to paintings of women reading. It's very charming. On the 20th century "Boekgrrls" page, there's something by my favorite painter, John Singer Sargent. I'm also very fond of the Benson and Israels, although it's hard not to be drawn to the redheaded reader in the Genth. Follow the links near the top and you can see works back to the 15th century. (via Terry Teachout)

April 08, 2004
A modern marriage?

At The New Republic, what is ostensibly a review of a Penguin Books selection of The Letters of John and Abigail Adams, but is really an absorbing meditation on the Founders' marriages. The Adamses had what many consider the most modern marriage of the group. But reviewer Gordon S. Wood warns against "ripping them out of the century in which they lived":

Although Abigail eventually became proud of her success as a manager of the family farm, she wanted nothing more than to have her husband back so she could resume what she thought of as her rightful role as wife and mother. To conceive of Abigail as somehow yearning to be like her husband is not only anachronistic, it is also trivializing and demeaning of her domestic character--as if the male model of political activity were the only standard of worth... [More]

April 06, 2004
Thought for the day

"But why doesn't anyone take books seriously any more? I mean, apart from academics, and what the fuck good are they—they're only reviewers delivering their copy a hundred years late."

—Julian Barnes, Metroland

April 05, 2004
But no mention of poor Mrs. Greene

Piers Paul Read wonders how Graham Greene could have fallen for such an "ordinary woman" as Yvonne Cloetta. Greene's last mistress, with whom he spent the last 30 years of his life, finally speaks, 13 years after his death. But Read says the book, a translation of a journalist's conversations with Cloetta, reads like a "Mills & Boon romance":

"Those were wild, crazy years. We allowed ourselves to be carried away by passion, without worrying about the future at all. Only one thing mattered to us: to preserve our love, come what may."
Read's review appears in the London Spectator. Irritatingly, the book does not yet appear to have any American publication date set.

A previous mistress, Catherine Walston, seems much more sophisticated, though rather more difficult, in comparison. William Cash's The Third Woman is an altogether engrossing account of their affair, a must-read for fans of The End of the Affair. Walston seems to have inspired better work from Greene, anyway.

Incidentally, why isn't Piers Paul Read better known in this country? He is best known here in the U.S. as the author of Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, which was made into a successful movie starring Ethan Hawke. He is a sharp novelist, but most of his books are not even in print here. He is piercing on modern morals. Look for books like A Season in the West and The Upstart in used bookstores, or during those cheap shopping excursions to Canada. (C'mon—an Amazon reader review of the latter gushes, "Outstanding! Poker, sex, social snobbery, cynicism, revenge, redemption!!" How can you resist?)

April 04, 2004
Great directors, cont'd

I confess I haven't seen Cold Mountain. The Worst Cab Driver in DC made me miss a sneak preview featuring a Q&A with one of the movie's actors, and I never did get over it. But I love every Anthony Minghella film I have seen: The English Patient was haunting and perfectly put together, The Talented Mr. Ripley was a dark delight, and Truly Madly Deeply was beautiful, funny, and featured Bach.

He'll be moving away from the romantic epic and back to what might be called more individual films with his next project. Minghella has purchased the rights to The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, a yet-unpublished novel by a virtually unknown London single mother, Liz Jensen. The Guardian describes the book as "a blackly comic tale about an accident-prone young boy who falls off a cliff and into the sea on his ninth birthday, but doesn't quite seem to die."

In other Minghella news, the long-, long-, long-awaited (at least by me) special edition DVD of The English Patient will be released on June 29. It will be a two-disc set with commentaries by the filmmakers and cast, deleted scenes, and more.

April 03, 2004
Triple threat

Neil LaBute, one of America's greatest working directors, is publishing a short story collection later this year. You can read his story "Grand Slam," recently published at Nerve.com.