Category: what is right with us

This Is Not The Superhero Film You Were Looking For

In retrospect, the sturm und drang over whether the Watchmen was any good or not (as a film based on the graphic novel) made us lose sight of what it actually was—a story that’s at least meant to satirize the spectacle that is the costumed hero and the superhuman, using superheroes to comment on the human condition. I liked it well enough visually, and thought many things were rendered well, but watching it, I felt sure that Zack Snyder hadn’t… understood what the book was about, even if he did like it.

A truly slavish adaptation would have been better, if 4 or 5 hours long—and would have included the Black Freighter story, released as a kind of special feature the week the film went out, and which had no intrinsic value on its own. “Am I supposed to bring it into the film and watch it on my hand-held at the appropriate moments,” I remember complaining to a friend who understood, and shook his head at the idea also. The film that came out was anything but a slavish adaptation—it was a hammy, unironic imitation of what the book meant to critique. The Watchmen wasn’t supposed to be a spectacle on the scale of last year’s Iron Man, and so I knew there was a problem when it was billed to us as if it would be. The original comic pulls the very idea of Iron Man apart critically, even as it reaches towards a very earnest ending.

To be clear, the Black Freighter storyline, in the comic, functioned as a narrative intervention that also enlivened the narrative at the same time. In the comments section of various reviews, people arguing about this have complained that The Black Freighter takes them out of the story but…it’s supposed to, as a way to make the story about something larger. The Watchmen as a comic is a fragmented narrative, and the purpose of fragmenting a narrative is to break the it into pieces so it can fit around something much larger than what a facile whole narrative can contain. It implies more than it describes as a result, and the reader, when this is successful, feels the touch of something greater than the story can provide otherwise.

With this fragmentation removed from the story, the satirical aspects collapse and fall away, and the faux-naive story it became comes forward. And thus, all was quite literally lost. Continue reading

Most of What I Like to Do Is Indoors

1.

Canada has more comics than we do, it occurs to me, as I walk through The Beguiling in Toronto. It is the best comics shop in Toronto, and perhaps in all of Canada. I pause to admire what appears to be an actual original page of a Tintin comic, framed and on the wall. Tintin in the submarine that looks like a shark, with Snowy.

At the border, the guard had questioned me. Business or pleasure? When I said “pleasure”, she said, It’s a terrible time to come to Toronto for that. She raised an eyebrow, genuinely skeptical.

Most of what I like to do is indoors, I say.

2.

As I walk out of the Lululemon store in Toronto’s Eaton Center, I’m looking for a place to stop and put on the shell I just bought. I’m there for the weekend and the temperature has dropped so quickly, the air is like a lash. In the Eaton Center, it’s warm and nothing is on sale really, unlike in the US. Also, everyone looks happy and healthy. It’s almost like traveling back into the American past. I feel a little doomed by it and put the bag down.

As I pull the tags off, I notice someone standing near me, leaning back over the glass railing a little while he reads a row of text messages on his iPhone, smiling. The smile is familiar. He’s young, dark-haired, handsome, has a kind of effortless casual chic—dark slim jeans that are still a little loose, a sort of dark car coat, boots, a long scarf wrapped close to his neck, and scruff, of course. He looks like the boys I saw in Paris. His coat is even a little tatty, but on him it’s adorable, not sad. His expression changes—and I realize I’m watching him closely because he’s Dominic Cooper, the actor from the History Boys who made it one of my favorite films.

He looks at me sideways and I say, Excuse me, are you an actor? I start soft in case I’m wrong.

I am, he says.

Were you in the History Boys?

I was, he says. Did  you see me in the play or the film?

The film, I say.

Not many people have seen the film, he says, and smiles.

I compliment him on his work, ask him about future projects. The person he’s with appears, I let him go with a “keep up the good work.” About fifteen minutes later, he walks past me as he leaves and gives me a big smile. Cheers, he says, and nods his head.

By now I’m standing with my friend Juliet, who I’ve come to visit. She smiles at me. He didn’t have to do that, you know, she says, teasing. He loves you.

3.

Later that night, at Baby Huey’s, my new favorite club in Toronto, as the dj gets the crowd moving, I realize Toronto is like if New York and Portland, Oregon had a child.

I dance and then leave.

4.

In the Toronto airport, I imagine writing many, many things that could be made into films starring Dominic Cooper. It seems to me the second novel, for example, most certainly has a role for him. And as I write this, I realize he could be in the first one also. I get into the smallest plane I can imagine, a twin-prop, and my flight races the snow back to Hartford.  I drive north to Amherst, even leaving the storm’s edge on the highway, but it catches me by the time I get home, and as I sleep, covers the ground around my house with snow.

Only Canada Air, it occurs to me, when I hear of all the flights that were canceled. Only Canada Air could have gotten me home.

On The Pleasure of Imagining How It Would Be

As a student at the Bennington Summer Writers Workshop in my junior year of college, I remember hearing Blanche Boyd say, If you’re fiction is good enough, they’ll believe it all really happened to you, and if your nonfiction is good enough, they’ll believe you made it up.

I think about this more than I would have thought in the years since that author Q&A. That, and the thrill of being a college student, waiting in line for the keg with Joy Williams on a summer night in Vermont. Who was dressed in her tennis whites.

This week, I was editing an interview I did with Sigrid Nunez when an author Q&A arrived from Nami Mun’s publicist, and there was a coincidence worth describing.

From my forthcoming interview with Sigrid Nunez, which will appear soon over at Memorious: Continue reading

Some Stupid People Lose, A Few Good People Win, World Equally Unfair To All

The Silent Majority Is Reading

The New York Times ran this piece Sunday about the pretentiousness of buying something like Herodotus for someone for Christmas. Let’s read along and translate it, shall we? Feel free to add your own translations in the comments.

YOU would have to crack open “The Landmark Herodotus” and get as far as Page 41 to discover this oo-la-la piece of a lecture given by the sage Sandanis to Croesus, the king of Lydia: “You are preparing for war against the sort of men who wear leather trousers and leather for all their other garments as well.”

But the book looks so smart sitting there on your shelf. It would be a pity to actually read it.

The 954-pager seems destined to end up under quite a few trees on Tuesday. Whether anyone opens it is another story. In the season of gift-giving, the ratio of books bought to books read tilts heavily toward the bought.

Translation: “I had to read 40 pages to find the first sex scene.”

That’s partly because as shopping becomes more frantic, books are the refuge of the desperate. Don’t know what to give your father? How about Alan Greenspan’s “Age of Turbulence.” For your child’s teacher, try one of the new translations of “War and Peace.” The literary climber on your list? Check out “Tree of Smoke,” the garlanded novel by Denis Johnson.

Such gifts carry with them a whiff of self-congratulation, as well as flattery. They say: I’m smart, and I think you are, too. People also often buy themselves these books in the hopes of stocking their shelves — or these days, their Facebook or MySpace profiles — with titles that tell the world “who I am,” even if all they can really say is, “I bought it.”

Translation: “I did all of this and went into a shame spiral that I haven’t come out of, and I’m not even sure there’s sex scenes in any of those books, because. . .wait for it. . .I haven’t read them!”

Editor’s note: Who is the loser who puts a book on his or her Facebook as a favorite that they haven’t yet read? Also, war with men who wear all leather= hot. . .

Part of this kind of book buying, of course, is good intentions. “You imagine yourself as being better read than you are, and you especially imagine that in the future you’re going to be better read than you are,” said Michael Kinsley, a columnist for Time magazine. “You think over Christmas things will slow down and I will have all this time to do the reading I didn’t have time to do during the year. There are half a dozen delusions like that that the book industry thrives on.”

Translation: “I, like yourself and Michael Kinsley, am bitter about working in the white-collar sweatshop we call America.”

That we are what we read isn’t precisely one of those delusions. Prospective friends and partners talk about favorite books to see whether their tastes are compatible. And paeans to the way books can shape personality abound.

Translation: “I think this guy looked through my book shelf while I went to the bathroom and then broke up with me afterwards, thinking that I’d read all of those books. He was hot and dumb and I’m so, so sorry, if you’re reading this, though I know you don’t read. Also, if I read another teacher thank you by a famous writer I’ll pass out.”

But sometimes a title becomes an It book or a best seller even though most people never make it past Page 9. A famous example is Stephen Hawking’s “Brief History of Time,” a book that promised to turn theoretical physics into easy reading. It spent more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list in hardcover and in the 20 years since it was first published has sold 3.5 million copies in North America, according to Bantam Dell Publishing Group. That’s a number that most likely far exceeds the number of people who actually managed to slog through the slim volume. “The happy thing is we don’t demand a book report of every consumer,” said Irwyn Applebaum, publisher of Bantam.

Translation: “He was basically telling me not to screw his future sales up but . . .I’m going to run this quote anyway.”

Mr. Kinsley, when he was editor of The New Republic, once famously set out to prove that people weren’t reading books they were buying. He and a colleague slipped coupons worth $5 into the backs of copies of titles like “Deadly Gambits” by Strobe Talbott and “The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong” by Ben J. Wattenberg. Nobody redeemed the coupons.

Editor’s note: 8 Billion dollars in gift cards went unclaimed last year. This doesn’t actually prove anything except that people who bought these books didn’t need the 5 bucks.

Translation: “Science!”

Generally, the phenomenon of buying without reading is difficult to quantify. But in Britain this year, a survey by the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council found that 33 percent of adults confessed to lying about reading a book to appear more intelligent.

Translations: “More science!” Also: “67% did not. But don’t look that way. Look this way! Trends piece! Hi!”

To be fair, by most accounts, many of the biggest sellers of the year, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, are books that are probably actually read: “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” the second novel by Khaled Hosseini, “Eat, Pray, Love,” the memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, and three titles by the thriller writer James Patterson.

Translation: “I read these books.”

But booksellers and others in the industry agree that there are always books that are more honored in the buying than in the reading. “We call them G.U.B.’s,” said Elaine Petrocelli, co-owner of Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., for “Great Unread Books.” Ms. Petrocelli said she heard a publishing sales representative coin the phrase nearly 20 years ago when she was trying to get extra copies of Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” A good dinner-party book, but she doubted people actually read it.

Translation: “Nothing says trends like a retread!”

Too many people give books for the wrong reasons, the best-selling Mr. Patterson said. There are those who select for snob appeal, buying books that critics have deemed worthy (not that these can’t be great books that people love to read). “Then you have the ‘I’m going to change you for the better with this book’ kind of giver,” Mr. Patterson said. “And then the ‘I know one thing about you’ giver, people who think ‘you like sports, so I’ll give you a book about sports.’ ”

Sometimes it’s simply that givers make buying decisions based on limited information. Sarah Baum, a mother of four in Mission Hills, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City, said she recently heard Helen Thomas speak at a bookstore and decided to buy several copies of Ms. Thomas’s “Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public” and give them as gifts.

“I haven’t read it,” Ms. Baum admitted. “I am a little concerned that I am giving a book that people will say, ‘Oh, that’s great,’ and a year from now it will show up at the school book sale.”

Editor’s note: I’m losing the will to finish this.

Roundups of the best books of the year can also drive people to bookstores. Thom Geier, a senior editor at Entertainment Weekly who oversees the magazine’s books section, suggested that “Tree of Smoke,” which has appeared on a number of “Best of” lists (including that of The New York Times) and won the National Book Award for fiction, might spend a lot of time gathering dust on the nightstand. “Unsuspecting readers may think that it’s one of these fictional romps through history,” Mr. Geier said. “They may be surprised to discover that Denis Johnson is a purveyor of rather dense prose that can be as thorny and complicated as a Laotian jungle.”

Translation: “Did I mention already that ‘Tree of Smoke’ was not as easy to read as internet porn?” Also: “Americans like lists!”

Sometimes the idea of the book — and its physical presence — is as important as content. “I think they become features in the intellectual landscape,” said Alberto Manguel, author of “A History of Reading” and “Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography,” out this month. “You don’t need to climb it or visit it, you just need to know it’s there.”

Translation: “Smart people who don’t believe this are happy to speculate that it could be true.”

Oh God. Okay, I think I’m done. Merry merry, and I’m coming back shortly with my attempt at a year-end round-up.

Ending Your Days Of Bachelor Loneliness With A Wild Husband

10:28 AM thiago: dude i need a BF

10:29 AM hooking up casually is exhausting haha

me: it is

why do you say that?

10:30 AM what happened?

thiago: haha

emotionally exhausting that is

10:31 AM nothing happened, im just bummed out that i liked the boy and i wont ever see him again

me: ah

thiago: im not a tourist in rome, alas

me: no, you are not.

10:32 AM thiago: seriously, i wanna date, tho… im 31 and i havent properly… [redacted] is like that too… we never dated properly

10:33 AM me: well, I know [redacted]‘s reasons. What are yours?

It’s okay not to settle down until now.

thiago: what are his?

dating is not settling down!

me: heh

10:34 AM I mean, ending your days of bachelor loneliness with a wild husband.

thiago: i dont know mine, maybe his will enlighten me haha

me: he hates himself.

thiago: haha

happens a lot

me: yeah

10:35 AM thiago: no i dont hate myself tho yeah self sabotage is often involved in such cases

me: I could give you a nuanced version of the conversations, but that’s it in a nutshell.

sure.

What does insabowa mean?

thiago: work hard hehe

10:36 AM thiago: very hermetic brazilian slang

10:37 AM me: is that the gay slang you told me about or something else?

thiago: i have absolutely no good excuse for not having a fuck buddy

me: You’re in Italy, for God’s sake.

thiago: nah its really just nongay slang

me: Surrounded by handsome men.

10:38 AM thiago: the gay scene isnt that great

me: Sometimes I think I want to move to Brazil and just speak that gay slang for the rest of my life.

thiago: eh, alas, im part of a certain scene lets face it

me: ?

thiago: that might not be prominent here or rather not out here

still closeted a scene in a place like rome

10:39 AM that scene being slightly musclebearish homo geeks who act like lesbians hahaha

10:40 AM oh add socialist to that

and some hippie

haha

its a prominent scene in california i tell ya :D

10:41 AM i seem to find anything other than that type undateable

me: wait

10:42 AM those guys are hot though.

thiago: hot nerds, man, nothing like hot nerds :D

me: I don’t get it. You’re saying they’re there or they are not there?

10:43 AM thiago: no, here in Rome you don’t see much of those… not out anyway… when you meet them they’ re foreign

10:44 AM me: So…you need to capture one while he visits.

thiago: you see bears, gym bunnies, superqueens, tranny chasers, priests, what else

me: :D

thiago: eh

me: just kidding.

say it was me.

10:45 AM say I was in this situation. what would you tell me?

thiago: jack off, keep on banging foreigners when you can haha

10:46 AM me: Oi.

thiago: why do people need scenes anyway

10:47 AM they do tho

me: so they can find each other.

We’re social animals.

thiago: nooo, when you find someone it’s always like they’re glowing in the dark

me: we’re not yet brains with feeding solution bubbling around us while we tap out messages telekinetically on keyboards.

10:48 AM thiago: yet, huh

me: I’m insane, pay no attention.

thiago: well, when we are in theory we wouldnt be able to tell the difference, i never got how the whole brain in jar thing was disproved hehehe

10:49 AM me: We’re moved off your single problem, though. How do we get another brain in that jar over there?

It’s a problem here too.

Sort of.

10:50 AM I wasn’t aware that the internet was the primary social mover here. Despite being on it way, way too much.

thiago: my problems always pertain all of humanity haha

which sucks

cause obviously theyre not easy to fix

me: Now I am, and things are changing a little. Is there something besides Dlist that can help you find guys there?

thiago: you live in a small place too

10:51 AM me: these guys in Paris have a social network attached to their blog: http://paris.typepad.com/

they’re sort of LA, sort of Paris, but neither of them is French.

So, that’s your scene, right?

Kind of?

10:52 AM thiago: my problem with the online hookup is that i absolutely need to see and hang out with the man before even considering a hook up

and online people want to make very specific arrangements for meeting

the more closeted a society is, the more specific the arrangements

10:53 AM and of course online everyone is a ninja with a huge dick

i cant agree to meet such a ninja and top him in 30 minutes at mine or his place

10:54 AM so getting a guy willing to meet for coffee is pretty hard

me: You’re amazing.

thiago: haha

me: Yes, all of that is true.

thiago: yeah, mostly everywhere

10:55 AM me: But that doesn’t mean you don’t try, just because it’s hard.

As someone said to me yesterday, these online things are what you make of them.

Until there’s an international network for slightly bearish homogeeks…oh wait.

thiago: i actually met several good close friends online so the online thing isnt the villain…. closeted idiots are haha

10:56 AM men oughta come out already

me: what about http://www.buttmagazine.com/

they have a network called buttheads.

thiago: my friend was interviewed by butt hehe

me: which friend? Your new friend?

thiago: adriano

no, an old friend hehe

10:57 AM he was featured recently actually

me: Right on. I have the book.

And the new issue.

thiago: these things in italy are virtually unknown… even dlist is

10:58 AM me: But the thing is, they are known to the few who are like you.

that is the point of it.

You know about it so they know about it. That’s how you find each other.

10:59 AM thiago: in theory haha

me: You can’t tell me you want to date and then dig your heels in with the only solutions.

Ok you can.

but the only other solution is to move.

thiago: no i have a dlist profile

11:00 AM another one is bah, going for the closet kids… i dont like that

11:02 AM the solution is either move where there are scenes or penetrate the italian scenes

its all very guerilla style haha

and kinda old

11:03 AM but its not italy, come on, its me, the problem is always us

11:04 AM which is to say there is no problem

me: :D

11:05 AM Yeah. I’m actually getting my acupuncturist to help.

He’s stimulating my boyfriend meridians.

thiago: what are those?

me: I’m just kidding.

Sort of.

He’s working on how much I live in my head.

11:06 AM thiago: to decrease that or the opposite?

me: oh, definitely decrease it.

11:07 AM He said something interesting to me about how my pulses ran much deeper than he thought they would.

they were hard to find and he didn’t expect that.

Which suggests something I’ve felt for a while, which is that there’s a me hidden inside me.

who needs to stop treating his body like it’s a jar for his brain.

One reason you may have been single all this time is that you may be like this.

There may be a you in you who doesn’t believe what he wants can exist.

11:10 AM and so you keep him hidden so he doesn’t get hurt.

thiago: it does exist ive seen it

me: but in the meantime he’s starving.

and furious with you.

maybe.

11:11 AM thiago: one big reason is that i didn’t become a proper homo until i was like 27

me: So you’re still a baby.

thiago: yup

haha

me: or a teenager.

11:12 AM thiago: but the problem of scenes and people coming together, and the online and what not… geez someone has to sort that out already, how hard is it :D

11:13 AM me: We need arranged marriages.

we need gay parents to set it up for us.

;D

thiago: haha

11:14 AM i saw something weird and depressive at a gay bar it kinda freaked me out

i thought a guy was cute and i came to talk to him

me: oi

thiago: and he didnt even reply to me

not a word

11:15 AM eventually walked off

i was like what

then later i heard him speak to another

basically he was supergay

11:16 AM and wouldnt speak to me so i wouldnt hear it

W T F

me: you mean…he had a very fey accent?

or he thought he was better than you?

thiago: yep… and he felt animosity towards me causa i dont

both

haha

11:17 AM he wanted to keep the advantage

me: weird.

thiago: he basically acted like a chick

chicks do that

they[ll horribly mistreat a guy coming up to them to stay on top of the situation

11:18 AM affff

he was hot, too, i didnt mind the accent, just the personality

haha

me: so he wanted you to chase him?

11:19 AM thiago: probably, he was acting chick like, i dont get chicks haha

11:20 AM fortunately i met the hot hawaiian the same day

me: well, that’s why you’re gay

see? There are no mistakes in life.

thiago: who was a MERKIN and not ITALIAN, damn italians

dude ive been in italy for a year, a year is when you bitch about your new land as an expatriate

me: do you know there’s a thing called a merkin?

11:21 AM thiago: yeah haha

no idea why people would need genital wigs tho

me: I’m so glad we don’t live in those times.

11:22 AM thiago: why did theyuse that??

me: though I suppose an online profile is like an electronic merkin.

I guess we live in those times.

thiago: yeah makes sense

11:23 AM the italian version – versions actually – of craigslist are soooo creepy

me: tell

11:24 AM thiago: in the good old days of CL in SF you could write a novella on a CL and get your man haha

right down to the most thorough detail

here its transexual hooker ads land

me: Wow. Is that what I should do?

11:25 AM Amazing.

thiago: worth a shot

fun project anyway haha

My Favorite Books This Week

God Is Dead, by Ron Currie, Jr.

The first chapters of this book are the kind that will freeze you in place while you’re in the bookstore, which is more or less what happened to me the other day. The premise is that God takes the form of a woman in Darfur and is then murdered, helpless to prevent His own death, and things go from there. This book kind of took me captive and marched me to the counter. I couldn’t say I bought it, exactly.

Also, it has the coolest Anders Nilsen cover.

Ron friended me on myspace last year and I thought, I hope this book is good. Also because there was a random hometown connection: he’s from the same small town in Maine where my mother’s family has been for 300 years.

In any case, highly recommended. He’s definitely a talent to watch.

Best American Comics 2007

Last year’s debut was a little rocky, to my eye—the excerpts were from great comics, but didn’t make for a beautiful reading experience in and of themselves. This year, a complete change. This year’s edition has a cover by David Heatley, who is perhaps the most disturbing man in comics right now, and was edited by Chris Ware. And the excerpts are amazing. It’s a more than happy follow-up edition from last year. A must.

Vilette, by Charlotte Brontë

Not a new title. But I’m rereading it, and I love it all over again. This story of a peripatetic and somewhat plain English governess, who travels to a small town in France to work at a French school for young women, has one of the most peculiar endings of any novel, and is an amazing piece of fiction.

One of these days someone will write about the cultural impact of the squads of English governesses that covered the world, in counterpoint to the British Empire’s literal armies. But it’s not going to be me. I will, though, happily read such a book.

The Children’s Hospital, by Chris Adrian

I’ve written about Chris before and he came to read here last year. The afterparty for the reading was easily the wildest one of the year. I took the book out to shelve it and sat down with it again, and thought I’d mention it’s out now in paperback. The link I’ve provided is to one of my favorite stories of his, over in the New Yorker online archives, “A Better Angel”. In any case, Chris’s novel is the bravest thing I’ve read in a long time, and at 600-some pages, is remarkably concise. And more fun than you’d think an apocalyptic novel might be. Chris is reading this week at Amanda Stern’s Happy Ending series, so if you’re in New York, check him out.