Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cloud Atlas Film Rumor

My dog-eared ARC of Cloud AtlasI hate to jump all over another man's breaking news, but this one hits far too close to home for me to ignore - there is a Cloud Atlas film adaptation in the works involving the Wachowski Brothers. Oh Shit. No no no no.

Director Tom Tykwer - of the upcoming Clive Owen film, The International - is apparently working on a script for David Mitchell's novel with the "everything-we've-touched-since-The-Matrix-turns-to-crap" Wachowskis. ran a little piece on Thursday about an interview they had with Tykwer in which he mentioned the project:

"I'm trying to adapt a novel called Cloud Atlas, which is a novel by David Mitchell that I'm really completely excited about. And I'm sitting down with the Wachowski Brothers and trying to adapt that for a screenplay. It's very interesting."

The Hollywood buffoon who wrote the piece, Alex Billington, shows his hand by wondering "which of the six (storylines Tykwer) would be focusing on...the next big question to be answered." Sorry to be a Book-Snob, but I am what I am: the WHOLE POINT of Cloud Atlas is that the six different narratives intertwine to create a larger whole - the six individuals cannot exist without the others! Focus on one story - ha! I don't mean to yell, but anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Mitchell's work - there is no novelist alive that I more eagerly anticipate the next volume of work from. (Well, maybe Salinger?) Mitchell has gradually become my favorite author over the years and has become my slamdunk, this-book-will-change-your-life handsell at the bookstore. I have tagged him as my Franchise Author. I will sign him to a long term contract. He will not be traded to the Wachowski Brothers.

Sorry - bit of an incoherent rant there. For those who've not yet read Mitchell, his books Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas, and presumably his upcoming "Nagasaki" novel, rely upon multiple narrators and multiple storylines to weave together a broad-reaching overall plot. There is a lot going on in a David Mitchell novel and they tend to demand multiple readings, simply for the reader to be able to fathom the depth of what they have just read. Atlas is a very intricate, multi-layered, intertwining onion of a book and I can see how it might translate to film - there's no denying that it has tremendous visuals and the complex narration could be fabulous in the right hands. Tykwer may be the right guy for this - his adaptation for Patrick Suskind's Perfume was fairly spot-on - but I think the Wachowskis would be a mistake, as they have failed to produce any film of lasting value since the original Matrix. Speed Racer? The third Matrix film? Speed Racer? I think that their rumored involvement in this project has to be directly related to the final two sections of the novel - the futuristic societies of An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After - I can see them being able to pull those sections off, visually, but the other four parts would require a more gentle touch. There's no denying their skills as cinematic visionaries, but their penchant for George Lucas-like dialogue worries me. Cloud Atlas would demand extra attention in order to get the complexity right - I think the only way this could be put on film correctly would be with David Mitchell's help. And I'm sure ego would interfere here, as this is Hollywood afterall, but maybe different directors for each section would be the way to go - each has such different style, pace, and characters that to trust anyone other than Mitchell himself to bring all six to life would be nearly impossible.

The project seems to be in a very early stage, but it still strikes fear into the depths of my very soul.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike: 1932-2009

What could I possibly say about this man, that has not already been said, especially in the wake of his death, when everyone has a tribute to share?

I always loved Updike's New Yorker reviews more than anything else - embarrassingly, I never found I could really invest myself in his fiction, and it has been many years since I last tried. But his book reviews were a true writer's review - elegant, eloquent, and pointed - they were the style of criticism book reviewers everywhere should aspire to. So I thank him for that.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Famous Patrick

As a response to the current economic downturn, NPR is running a continuous series on being unemployed in America on their Day to Day program - a program that itself will soon be off the air due to budgetary cuts. Their first interview with one of the unemployed masses was with my brother-in-law, Patrick Mulhearn! As further enticement, the story's title is "Zookeeper, Topless Bar Manager Ready To Work". Check it out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Review)

"The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z."

In 1925, the internationally known superstar explorer, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, disappeared into the vast Amazon rain forest with two companions, never to be heard from again. His vanishing captivated the world at the time - his exploits in South America had been followed all across the globe via news reel, wire reports, and newspaper headlines - only to have it all fade into obscurity as the century aged. Fawcett was a man obsessed - he spent his entire adult life searching for a rumor, a myth, his own personal "el Dorado" - an ancient city deep within the Amazon, forever eluding the Western explorer, that he had secretively dubbed "Z". Since he vanished over 80 years ago, generations of explorers have gone searching for Fawcett and his city of Z, only to be consumed by the forest themselves. When journalist David Grann stumbled upon Fawcett's story - which by the 21st century had faded far from the public eye - he became obsessed in his own right with uncovering what had happened to the Colonel and his companions.

The Amazon, even today, is mostly uncharted wilderness - over 2 million square miles of dense rain forest and the most bio-diverse region on the planet. Imagine what that might have been like for a Victorian-era explorer - no satellite imagery, no GPS, no radios and plenty of poison frogs, billions of mosquitoes, bot flies, vampire bats, and possibly hostile local tribes. Fawcett first arrived in the Amazon in 1906 - sent by the Royal Geographical Society of London as an impartial cartographer. The region was so unexplored and virtually uncharted, that Bolivia and Brazil could not agree on their shared border through the forest - hence the R.G.S. sent Fawcett to chart the region and help define that border. So, without ever having been to South America before, let alone anywhere near the Amazon river, he successfully charted the territory - a full year faster than anyone anticipated. By 1911, Fawcett was an international celebrity - his success on multiple charting missions in the rain forest was unprecedented and captured the imaginations of most of the developing world. He managed to befriend most of the indigenous tribes he met, virtually ensuring his survival in the region and seemed to have an uncanny knack for not falling ill or getting injured while exploring. It was around this time, through discussions with tribes and exchanges of rumors, that Fawcett began developing his theory that there had at least at one time existed a large scale civilization within the rain forest, rivaling that of the Inca, Aztec, or the Maya. It became his life obsession.

"Anthropologists," Heckenberger said, "made the mistake of coming into the Amazon in the twentieth century and seeing only small tribes and saying, 'Well, that's all there is.' The problem is that, by then, many Indian populations had already been wiped out by what was essentially a holocaust from European contact. That's why the first Europeans in the Amazon described such massive settlements, that, later, no one could ever find."

David Grann, a journalist for the New Yorker, stumbled upon Colonel Fawcett's story while researching an Arthur Conan Doyle piece in 2004. Fawcett was rumored to be the inspiration for Doyle's The Lost World - a tale of a plateau hidden deep in the rain forest where dinosaurs had avoided extinction - and Grann unearthed some private papers of Fawcett's which seemed to act as a guide to his ultimate destination when he disappeared in 1925.

Strapped for cash and in danger of losing his once vaunted international acclaim (victim to a 1920's "what have you done for me lately" sort of thing), Fawcett had decided to head out on one final foray into the jungle in that fateful year, accompanied only by his 21-year old son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimell. As part of his deep obsession with the city he called Z, Fawcett left behind false clues as to his actual destination to throw off any would-be explorers that may have followed in his wake. Grann, in the midst of his burgeoning Fawcett obsession, uncovered the true starting point for the actual destination Fawcett was headed for in 1925 - something no one else had managed to do in the 80 years Fawcett had been missing.

Grann pens Fawcett's tale with fabulous narrative aplomb - constantly keeping you guessing at what may lie across the next uncharted river or through the next stand of massive, sunlight devouring trees. The pace is perfect throughout - Grann sprinkles just enough of his comparatively anemic 21st century excursion into the jungle within the history lesson that is Fawcett's life to keep the reader fully engaged and, well, a little bit obsessed with the story. His own obsession pales in comparison with that of the Colonel - he follows him, yes, into the heart of the Amazon, but with the express goal of coming out again to write this story, not to perish in the rain forest without any answers. (To perish would be decidedly Victorian and not very New Yorker.) But the most compelling element, even with the mounting suspense over what actually happened to Fawcett and his son, is in what Grann learns while searching deep in the forests of Brazil. His jungle conversations with archaeologist-gone-native, Michael Heckenberger, reveal some truly remarkable and archaeologically groundbreaking finds that actually lend some truth to Fawcett's theory of the Lost City of Z. The final chapter reads like an edge-of-your-seat adventure novel, complete with bombshell surprises and a cliffhanger ending, while keeping grounded in reality by the journalist's presence. Could this crazed, Indiana Jones-type have been onto something - even without having any real proof? Could there have existed a massive, advanced civilization - complete with highways, bridges, and multiple townships - beneath the impenetrable canopy of the Amazon rain forest? There seems to be a certain irony that the life of this explorer has been as obscured by the annals of history as his obsession - Z - has been obscured by the forest canopy.

One final note: my suggestion to you, not just as a bookseller, but as a friend, is this: as soon as this book is published (February 24), just get yourself a copy and read it, because Fawcett's story is going to become fairly common knowledge in the years to come. Brad Pitt purchased the film rights to Grann's book back in April of 2008 and is rumored to be in pre-production already with his director, James Gray. Don't let him ruin it for you.

Notable Addendum

I would just like to apologize to Richard Price and Tom Rob Smith for neglecting to add their wonderful books to my notable list for 2008. I'm not sure how I managed to forget Price's Lush Life and Smith's Child 44 when I was compiling the list, but it certainly has nothing to do with the authors or their novels. Lush Life is a fantastic novel about crime in New York City and the layers of human perception that affect how we view those crimes. Filled with great characters that breathe deep in the Manhattan night, slamming shut their windows to keep out the city. And Child 44 - reviewed at length here - is a pitch perfect crime novel set in the terrifying environs of Stalinist Russia. The tension is palpable throughout - not in the simple crime plotline, but in the dangerous task of fighting the morally-ambiguous State in an effort to reveal the truth.

Anyhow, they both deserved to make the list, I just dropped the ball a bit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Headed to the Pulp Mill

As if his last book title wasn't hilarious enough (Hot Mahogany anyone?) bestselling author, Stuart Woods has produced this gem: Mounting Fears.

Possibly subtitled: "A Novel of Sexual Dysfunction"?

Coming in June: Sweaty Leather
And in July: Out of Ideas

The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives

I honestly never thought that January 20th, 2009 was ever actually going to arrive. It seemed like a mythical endpoint - a date that existed in pure fantasy, the day that we would all be rescued. Eight long, painful, horrible fucking years watching this country slide down the slippery slope of muck and greed into the abyss of neverending dark. Can this man stop the descent? Can he pull us up out of the darkness? Can he right the wrongs?

I have no idea, but I'd rather watch him try than anyone else.


Friday, January 16, 2009


I am currently experiencing some mild writers block. Please stand by.

How do some of these book bloggers crank posts out on a daily basis? I have 3 or 4 half-finished reviews that I can't seem to wrap up and nothing seems to have caught my attention (or my ire) in the book world enough for me to feel like writing about it. (Hey! Simon & Schuster has a new website!)

In the half-mad world of blogging, if you don't have anything so say, you should probably just say it anyway. The more you post, the more people read what you have to say, even if you're not actually saying ANYTHING. It makes me crazy.

I'm just going to go read.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Trash Heap

It's that sobering, reality-soaked time of year again - the Christmas decorations are coming down, winter is setting in, and it's time to return the unloved dregs in the bookstore from whence they came. While cleaning house for our annual inventory, this particular collection of pathetic, also-rans designated for return caught my eye today: Jerome Corsi's Obama Nation, David Freddoso's The Case Against Barack Obama, and the rush press edition of the childlike Sarah Palin biography. So long, losers!
In other news, there has been a rather disheartening update to the Oregon court case concerning the law restricting the sale of "sexually explicit material" to minors. You may remember this issue from my post "Its Raining Porn in Oregon" from last year. In Oregon, if a 12-year old walks into a bookstore and opens, say, a sex education book or "The Story of O", that just so happens to have some images or passages related to human sexuality in it, under the Oregon law, this can be construed as "furnishing sexually explicit material to a child" and the bookseller can be prosecuted - up to a year in prison and/or a $6250 fine. U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman decided last month that the Oregon law was right in line with every Constitutional precedent he could think of, so it was A-OK by him. An appeal is currently being considered by the ABFFE and the other plaintiffs.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Glenn Goldman

I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Book Soup owner/founder Glenn Goldman this past weekend. Book Soup has been a Sunset Boulevard institution since Glenn opened up in 1975 and his influence in the Southern California bookselling community has been positively monumental. I didn't really know Glenn personally - I had met him just a handful of times, cocktail parties here and there - but I do know those who knew him well and cared a great deal about him, so his untimely passing at 58 comes as a great shock.

He was a passionate proponent of the written word and for that, we all owe him a sincere debt of gratitude. It is a horrible over-simplification to say he will be sorely missed....

As a wonderful way of remembering Glenn, the folks at Book Soup have set up the Glenn Goldman Booksellers Scholarship Fund. To donate, please visit