Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Anyone for Irony? (a brief rant)

"Uh, I'm looking for this book, I can't really remember the title, but I think it had something to do with remembering words?" (the customer side of a conversation overheard in the Warwick's book department this afternoon)

How do people who speak in inane jibberjabber like this manage to maintain basic life function? How did this woman manage to get out of her home, drive her Mercedes the five blocks to Warwick's, get out with both high-heeled feet on the ground, walk into the bookstore, and form those words through her collagen-injected lips - without killing anyone, let alone realizing the utter inanity of what she was saying. There's no possible way she realized that what she was saying was laced with such ironic humor. Wouldn't a normal, self-respecting person have just stayed home, eaten a grilled cheese sandwich and Googled "word memory book"?

I realize that every bookseller has their own, very similar stories, but here are a couple of my all time favorites, omitting the several conversations with people trying to ask for the book, The Memory Bible, but who just can't seem to remember any part of the title - I've lost count of those stories.

"What was the title of the book you ordered?"
"Uhhh, something about Alzheimer's. I don't remember."

Seriously, you just said that? How can you expect me not to laugh? I mean no offense, but how am I to be expected to control myself?


Ender Wiggin - Sexual DeviantThen there was the concerned mother who wanted to make absolutely sure that her 12-year old son would not stumble across any sexuality in Ender's Game - a sci-fi novel about a six-year old boy who fights space aliens. Granted, the alien creatures in the book are called "buggers", but I decided she didn't need to know that. This was a hard enough conversation to have without telling her how much time her son was already spending just thinking about sex, let alone having it with someone else. Poor bastard. When her total purchase was calculated at $69.69, five minutes later, I received no reaction from this irony-free, humorless, somehow sexless mother. Hilarious. But I didn't laugh.

PS: Just when I though I was done with this rambling rant, I stumbled on this great homeschooling website, where a book reviewing parent had this to say about Ender's Game:

"...the story is overflowing with profanities and horrific descriptions that include the torture and deaths of animals, as well as several of the book's characters. What parent really wants their child reading books that will certainly generate troubling images and thoughts? It's been several days since I finished reading Ender's Game and I still can't get it out of my head. Publishers and reviewers might say that makes the book great. I say it makes it dangerous. Ender's Game is not appropriate for children of any age."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Marko Approved, vol. 4

Downtown Owl by Chuck KlostermanDowntown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
Chuck Klosterman is one of the funniest writers alive - if you have no idea who he is, you are a loser*. His typical gig is writing sharp, witty essays and observation pieces as a culture critic for Esquire, sometimes for the New York Times Magazine, Spin, The Believer, and the like. His story "The Amazing McNugget Diet" (available in the collection Chuck Klosterman IV) - a chronicle of his attempt to eat nothing but McDonald's Chicken McNuggets for a full week - very nearly made me soil myself. From laughter. Downtown Owl is his first foray into fiction - and a highly successful one at that.

Owl, North Dakota circa 1983 is a place where no one to really wants to live, but a place where no one can seem to think of a good enough reason to leave. Mitch is a high school kid who wants his football coach to die a horrible death. He hates rock music - or what passes for rock music in 1983, like ZZ Top - and fully admits that the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team are the only black people that he "knows". Julia is the newest resident of Owl - fresh from college, she moved there to take a teaching position at Owl High School. She's not really sure why she did that. She decides to spend her time hopping from bar to bar, getting trashed, and talking to Vance Druid - the mystery man of Owl. (Vance is a former high school football phenom who only listens to the Rolling Stones and reluctantly raises bison as a profession.) Horace has lived in Owl his entire life. In his later, widower years, he spends much of each day at the coffee shop listening to his circle of friends complain about the world at large. "The way young people talk these days, you'd think Christopher Columbus was the Caucasoid Pol Pot" - a response to which may be, "You know, they say Columbus was a rapist....I'd hate to think we didn't get our mail this morning in tribute to an Italian rapist."

What do these three people mean to you and me? They are the United States of Owl, North Dakota. Klosterman, using the perspectives of this amazing triple threat, gives us a story that is equal parts coming-of-age, quarterlife crisis, and one of coping with grief and the prospect growing older. Each is a wonderful human being who breathes and pulses within a different period of life, providing a darkly comedic, all encompasing view of white, middle American life in 1983. (You know you've been dying for a novel about white, middle Americans in 1983.) I was surprised by this book, actually - I wasn't sure what to expect from it, being familiar with his non-fiction, but Klosterman has managed to maintain the wit and social awareness that he's known for and have it translate into his novel. The result is a very compelling story about the lives of these three people - lives that never actually intersect, even in the ridiculously small town of Owl - who offer a complete view into this window of small town American life. A very, very funny and well-crafted book - and one that I hope will be the harbinger of good fiction from Chuck in years to come.


*Sorry, that was unprofessional and cruel. I have no idea if you are a loser, but your ignorance** of Chuck Klosterman should be no basis for loserdom.

**I mean "ignorance" in the nicest possible way, of course.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama Selects Biden

As I'm sure you are aware - since no one gets their breaking news from a book blog - Barack Obama selected Senator Joe Biden from Delaware as his running mate this morning. A complex choice & one that I'm not sure I'm completely on board with yet.

Joe BidenBiden fills in the foreign policy gap on Obama's resume fairly well, being well known in international circles as a diplomatic force - currently serving as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I like that he has been to Georgia in recent weeks, (the former SSR, not the Peach State) which should help deflect some of McCain's criticism of Obama, who was on vacation while Georgia was invaded by Russia. On the other hand, he's got a bit of a mouth and some of his comments about Obama - particularly during early campaign debates - are a little bit worrisome. Last year, he called Obama's preparedness for the presidency into question, claiming that "the presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training." Wasting no time at all, McCain has already prepared a negative television commercial using Biden's comments - but I don't know how much effect this will have on undecided voters.

David Brooks from the NY Times thinks that Biden's comments will be out weighed by his directness and intelligence, since "voters are smart enough to forgive the genuine flaws of genuine people." In today's political climate, where hate-mongers like Jerome Corsi can get the footholds that they do, this seems like an awfully naive assessment, especially coming from an experienced op-ed guy like Brooks. But I actually think that Biden's comments were harmless - spoken in the midst of a presidential run by Biden himself, of course he would call his opponents records and abilities into question.

Biden did vote for the war in Iraq - a decision he, like HRC & others, came to publicly regret. I can't really forgive that one, as it was one of my main sticking points with Clinton as well - how do we ultimately sift through the rubble left in the wake of that congressional decision? And he is more of a Washington insider than I would have liked - he's been a senator since 1972 - not exactly the "change" I'd been hoping for.

But all that said, I do like his directness - it's refreshing, actually, in this world of double-entendre politics. His assessment of Rudy Giuliani last year during a debate was particularly barbed: "There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11." And, even though he has been critical of Obama's lack of foreign policy experience, I like his experience in that area and I really think it helps Obama to fill that gap, as they say. I think he offers the correct amount of balance to the campaign - an experienced, vocal, (and yes, white) senator - to give the other side enough trouble in the coming weeks and to assuage the concerns of the undecided voter. I approve - now let's get this damn thing done.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Scarf-Ace

This week's Sign of the Apocalypse, or, this week's Biggest Waste of Paper and Ink Since David Lynch's Catching the Big Fish, or, this week's Sign That Scarface Still Sucks:

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of Scarface (1983), Harry N. Abrams, Inc is publishing this lovely $40 illustrated hardcover book - the definitive collection of Scarface detritus.

The Scarface Book - available at fine retail bookstores everywhere this fall!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Corsi-gate Update

Obama's campaign today issued a 41-page document entitled "Unfit For Publication" as a point-by-point rebuttal to Jerome Corsi's book The Obama Nation (see previous post). Unlike John Kerry's campaign, which sealed Kerry's fate by not responding quickly enough to the negative press generated by Corsi and his "Swift Boat book" in 2004, Obama's people have made short work of ripping Corsi to shreds. The report outlines every inaccuracy within Corsi's book and spends several pages pointing out all the racist, bigoted comments he has made, both within the book and in the world at large.

Some Corsi gems highlighted in the report:
- “Let’s see exactly why it isn’t the case that Islam is a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion? Where’s the proof to the contrary?” (Free Republic)

- Corsi believes that the Bush administration is attempting to create a North American Union by conjoining with with Mexico and Canada and that the traffic from NAFTA resulted in the Minnesota bridge collapse last year.

- He believes that there is no global oil shortage and questions the scientific validity of the actual creation of fossil fuels: “I’m at the point where the dinosaur theory seems silly. You take a pile of cats and you bury them, dig them up 10 years later and you don’t get oil.”

Gideeyup!

For more, check out The Huffington Post and BarackObama.com.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eratta Non Gratta

I have made an egregious error. I have accidentally squashed the wrong anti-Barack Obama book, allowing another to slip through my fingers to emerge on the world's stage. (Please see "Hate Has No Place Here") Jerome R. Corsi's book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, has clawed its way out of the publishing pit from whence it came and dragged its pustuled, blubbery, hate-filled self onto the front page of the presumably left-leaning New York Times, thus into the collective consciousness of the nation. What happened to "All the News That's Fit to Print"?

First things first: The Book. Jerome Corsi was the mastermind behind Regnery Publishing's "Unfit For Command" (aka: the Swift Boat Book), that effectively derailed John Kerry's campaign in 2004 when coupled with extremely negative ad campaigning. Since then, Corsi has sued the parent company of Regnery over royalties ("They’ve structured their business essentially as a scam and are defrauding their writers, causing a tremendous rift inside the conservative community,” says Richard Miniter, co-plaintiff & fellow former-Regnery author) and crafted a new book with a new publisher (Simon & Schuster's conservative imprint, Threshold Editions) aimed at upsetting Barack Obama's campaign. Corsi's strategy tends to be one of filling a book with as much erroneous, libelous, inflammatory information as possible as to make sifting through and fact checking it all extremely time consuming. His hope seems to be that by the time his accounts have been debunked, the political damage has already been done - as was the case with John Kerry's campaign.

"The goal is to defeat Obama,” Mr. Corsi said in a telephone interview with the NY Times. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.”

Jerome CorsiSo, as a result, most of Corsi's "arguments" seem to be pure speculation and truth-twisting, like his myopic focusing on Obama's college weed-smoking and coke-snorting. Corsi wonders whether Obama ever "really stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended to his law school days or beyond." When confronted with Obama's claim of not partaking in any extra-curricular drugs since apx. 1980, Corsi replied that "self-reporting, by people who have used drugs, as to when they stopped is inherently unreliable.” (Wow, so we shouldn't take the current president at his word either, I guess, being a much bigger coke fiend than Barack ever was.) Other bullet points from Threshold's website include:

- Plenty more on the Rev. Wright affair, which is only news on FoxNews, these days - (Wright's) sermons have always been steeped in a rage...that Corsi shows has deep meaning for Obama.

- Obama's extensive connections with Islam and radical politics, from his father and step-father's Islamic backgrounds, to his Communist and socialist mentors in Hawaii and Chicago...

- Obama's naïve, anti-war, anti-nuclear foreign-policy, predicated on the reduction of the military, the eradication of nuclear weapons and an overconfidence in the power of his personality, as if belief in change alone could somehow transform international politics, achieve nuclear-weapons disarmament and withdrawal from Iraq without adverse consequences, for us, for the Iraqis or for Israel.

And my favorite: Meticulously researched and documented....

Yet, funny enough, in his own preface to "The Obama Nation", Corsi claims that his "fundamental opposition to Obama’s presidential candidacy involves public policy differences", not his pot smoking, his fake Islamic faith, or the color of his skin. In fact, most of that preface seems to be an attempt to document his positive efforts in the realm of racial politics as a way to deflect the obvious "racist cracker" label that will inevitably be slapped on him. Instead, he focuses more on Obama's supposed ties to the Muslim faith - while untrue, not actually a bad thing, being one of the three major religions of the world - offering proof in the form of Obama's middle name of "Hussein", the use of which has reportedly been suppressed by the fabled Left. So we're back to that one again. Great - so much for an informed, intellectual national debate.

As far as his well-calculated reasons for writing this, he says that his "preliminary decision to write this book was made in 2005", yet he later admits, that he "finalized the decision to write this book in March 2008." Four or five months to write after thinking it over for 3 years - plenty of time to prepare that "meticulous" research instead of just making shit up. Clearly this book was just a rush job attempt at a smear campaign - pretty sad.

As for the New York Times, I take issue with their placement and timing of this article, although not necessarily its writing. John Kerry made the fatal mistake in 2004 of ignoring Jerome Corsi and his Swift Boat friends for long enough for them to get a firm foothold in the national debate and raise enough questions about his war record for the truth to become irrelevant. I remember wondering, while all that was going on and crusty, old, white men from La Jolla were screaming at me every day, why Kerry didn't just step the fuck up and address the lies before things go out of hand. Obama certainly needs to address this, but it should be on his terms, not the New York Times' - a publication supposedly on his side. Front page placement of the cover of Corsi's book does not help the issue. The fact that someone read that article this morning and called Warwick's to have us hold him a copy, tells me that the message behind the article was lost on some folks. And the timing for bringing this up could not be any worse. While John McCain is warmongering over Georgia, Barack is on vacation in Hawaii - admittedly bad timing in its own right. The last thing he needs is a left-leaning newspaper giving free advertising to an issue that could potentially destroy his campaign for president and leave us all with four years of Bush-lite. In fact, I question the Times' motives completely - on the same section of their website, right below the article in question - is a post from The Caucus blog written by Patrick Healy. In this post, Healy writes about a fund-raising email sent out by Obama's campaign to supporters where a prominent financial supporter's name was misspelled. Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, will be one of the guests at an event in New York next month - a $10,000 entry fee event - and in the email, not the actual invitations, her first name is spelled as "Ann". Woah, woah, woah - wait a minute! How did this scoop get relegated to The Caucus blog instead of the front page of the paper?! This is news, people!

I realize that a large swath of the country supports John McCain - and much of that swath may not be ready for a black man to be their president - but, frankly, I don't care what they want anymore. They've gotten what they wanted for the last eight years and we all need something to change - John McCain is not the man to herald this change. Interestingly enough, Jerome Corsi is not a McCain supporter - he is a Constitution Party member and plans on voting that way in November. For a bit of Corsi-perspective, part of the Constitution Party's mission statement expresses their desire to "restore American jurisprudence to its original Biblical common-law foundations". I can see clearly now. Let's just not give this hate-mongering waste of paper any more traction than it already has.


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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rock Bottom

Amy Tan and Stephen KingI'm not sure how I missed the following sweet, golden nugget of information, considering how many times I have "googled" Stephen King's name for the purposes of mockery on this blog, but, in today's New York Times Magazine, in the course of a brief interview, respected author Amy Tan mentioned that she is in a band with several other authors, including Mr. Stephen King. The band, in existence since 1992, is called "The Rock Bottom Remainders" and its other members include: Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., Greg Iles, Matt Groening (noooooo!), James McBride, Kathy Kamen Goldmark, Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, and formerly Barbara Kingsolver. Holy shit, how did I miss this?

But it is for charity, so I can't mock this too hard - one of their "causes" is the ABFFE, which I wholeheartedly support. (See previous Catapult posts on censorship and Indiana.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ken Bruen Wins 2009 Booker Prize!

The 2008 Man Booker Prize longlist of 13 was announced on July 29, with some surprises, as usual. The biggest being the appearance on the list of Child 44 by Tom Robb Smith. Now, I enjoyed Child 44 for what it was, but I don't really think that it deserves a place among the best that the former Empire has to offer. Some snobbish book-types are up in arms over the inclusion of a "thriller" on the list, but the genre is not the issue I have, but rather that there are simply better overall books out there. As with any list made by other humans, there is always something put in that doesn't belong or something left out that should be there. This is why we like lists - so we have something to debate over and complain Jamie Byng of Canongate Booksabout. On the Prize's message boards, Jamie Byng, publisher of the snubbed Canongate Books, said, "...I cannot respect a judging committee that decides to pick a book like Child 44, a fairly well-written and well-paced thriller that is no more than that...". This is going beyond mere complaint into the realm of straight-up whining. Mr. Byng is upset because his house's book, The Spare Room by Helen Garner, failed to make the cut, being that it is no Life of Pi, Canongate's lone Booker winner. His comments are bitter, sad, and oh-so snobby and pretentious. He later clarified that it was nothing against Child 44, it was just that he felt very strongly about The Spare Room and was disappointed. "One is entitled to care about a book if you are its publisher", he told theBookseller.com. Oh, poppycock. He's calling the judging panel out for picking a "thriller" because it's too mainstream - read: accessible or popular. This is behavior that ostracizes readers and is endangering the cultural significance of awards like the Booker. I, for one, think it's about time that crime fiction ditched the "Agatha Christie" softcore tag and was allowed to be recognized by the elitist literary scene. Do I think Child 44 is the book to bridge that gap? No, but it's the thought that counts.

I will admit that the Booker committees, especially of late, do not always get things completely right. For one, Tim Winton's Breath should most certainly be on this year's list - especially since he's been shortlisted before - usually a sure thing for all subsequent books, right Salman? And I'm still mad about the 2004 Prize which was awarded to Alan Hollinghurst's gay-Notting Hill-1980's Line of Beauty instead of David Mitchell's utterly brilliant, genre-smashing epic Cloud Atlas. Or 2003, when upstart D.B.C. Pierre beat out Monica Ali, Zoe Heller, and Margaret Atwood - which cost me a dollar bet. But, again, this is why we love lists so much - because We always think They are wrong. Here's the 2008 longlist:

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Girl in a Blue Dress - Gaynor Arnold
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
From A to X - John Berger
The Lost Dog - Michelle de Krester
Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh
The Clothes on Their Backs - Linda Grant
A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie
Child 44 - Tom Robb Smith
A Fraction of the Whole - Steve Toltz

Personal blog moment: Right now, I'm pulling for Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, which I am in the midst of as we speak (I also loved his The Hungry Tide from 2005) and The White Tiger, since I just read it, loved it and think that it smells a lot like "crime fiction" - a fact I don't think Jamie Byng is aware of. Maybe all the attention given to the genre-war going on with Tom Robb Smith will draw attention away from Adiga enough for him to slip in and steal the Prize. Viva India!

PS: Mr. Byng, if you are reading this, I am sorry. And, are you hiring?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Marko Approved - vol.3

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
A very funny, darkly compelling narrative of life among the lower classes in modern India. Balram Halwai considers himself the figurative “white tiger” – an anomaly that comes along only once a generation. He is the type of man who will buck the system, throw off the shackles of oppression, kill his boss, and seize his true entrepreneurial destiny. Tired of accepting his fate every time an election is fixed ("These are the three main diseases of this country (India), sir: typhoid, cholera, and election fever”) or a rich man’s crime is pinned on him, Balram is determined to leave the Darkness behind and enter the Light - the world of wealth and prosperity just out of reach. He acts as our guide through a caste system world that most westerners don’t even know exists - and shows us the only way to break out of the confines of the Rooster Coop. An absolutely brilliant debut - and just announced as a long-list finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize.


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