Of Oscars and invisible writers

Are you, like David Kipen, a Netflix subscriber with “the cockeyed notion that the screenwriter may have been partly responsible for your enjoyment” of a film? If so, you’re shit out of luck searching for more by the same writer to fill out your queue.

Alas, Netflix has never heard of Jeffrey Caine. “Michael Caine?,” it offers cheerfully. “Jeffrey Wright?,” the fine actor who may by now have been nominated for “Syriana.” Even, with just a hint of desperation, “Citizen Kane?”

You get the idea. Netflix, despite its pretensions to comprehensiveness, indexes its films by actor, genre and — but of course — director, but not by screenwriter. Even if you’re not the author of a new book (as I am) arguing that screenwriters have a more legitimate claim to the authorship of their films than directors do, this omission seems wrongheaded in the extreme — and bad business besides….

But the ultimate insult is yet to come. Among Netflix’s many failed attempts to come up with Jeffrey Caine’s name is one other: “Jeffrey Dahmer?” (And not, laughably, as the subject of the docudrama “Dahmer,” which Netflix stocks, but as an “actor” in the unsavory documentary “Serial Killers: The Real Life Hannibal Lecters.”) Here, finally, is Netflix’s perfect snub to the thousands of nameless scribes who, after all, only write what amounts to the company’s bread and butter. Poor Raymond Chandler! If only — instead of co-writing the scripts for “Double Indemnity” and “Strangers on a Train,” to say nothing of writing the source novels for “The Big Sleep” and “Farewell, My Lovely” — he’d had the good sense to kill and eat somebody.

The Boston Globe‘s Matthew Price profiles Kipen in anticipation of his new book, The Schreiber Theory
A Radical Rewrite of American Film History
, which appears tomorrow.

On February 9, Kipen will debate the politics of movie authorship with director/screenwriter Nicholas Meyer at CalArts.

See also: Michael Schaub’s quick primer on the year’s Academy Award nominees for best adapted screenplay.

My so-called literary life

I’ve been very busy lately with edifying writerly matters such as finding the cheapest beer that’s still potable, watching Crime Story, and trying to master the art of traversing the Pulaski Bridge in the morning without having to stop reading Dubravka Ugresic.

Being an irrepressible nerd, I’ve always read during the walking parts of my commute — between trains, waiting for buses, walking from the subway exit to my job. Back in Florida, when I drove to work, I used to read at stoplights. But until last week I’d never tried reading while crossing the river on foot.

Thursday I left the house for work even later than usual. I was striding along, up over the bridge, whirling my face away from the road and toward the skyline whenever a bus came toward me (because I’ve started my day with mouthful of street gravel several times, and even my grandfather’s grits didn’t prepare me for the experience), when a man sped by on foot, his arm brushing me slightly.

He was engrossed in a book roughly six times the size of the Gutenberg Bible. Adjusting his glasses, he turned a page, and side-stepped a cyclist at once. Soon he was yards ahead of me. Continue reading…

Book tournament

The Morning News editors have announced the sixteen novels selected for the Second Annual Tournament of Books. And they’ve broken their own rules.

For instance, the TMN/Powells.com ToB constitution explicitly states “only books published in the U.S. between January 1 and December 1, 2005 will be eligible.” The Accidental wasn’t published until January 2006, but hell, the Brits have been talking about it for so long it feels like it was published in 1987. We included it just because we wanted to, constitution be damned. Welcome to the post-Bush/Cheney world, bitches.

Never mind the stars and stripes

  • “[N]o country can be well governed unless its citizens as a body keep religiously before their minds that they are the guardians of the law and that the law officers are only the machinery for its execution, nothing more.” — Mark Twain
  • NASA’s top climate scientist says the Bush administration has tried to censor his comments on global warming.
  • Steve Gilliard calls Boondocks (based on the comic strip of the same name) “the blackest thing you’ve ever seen on TV.” And he reminds Al Sharpton and other critics that “black writers and performers work under the same First Amendment as anyone else.”

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please submit details to lauren@maudnewton.com by the Thursday prior to publication, with the date of the event in the subject line.

The “What’s Your Poison?” Edition (not to be confused with The Seven Deadly Sins or The Minimalist Editions)

MONDAY, 1.30: The pleasure promised is of the intellectual rather than the hedonistic variety as “James Shapiro, Columbia Shakespeare Professor, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and Joshua Wolf-Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy” bring their talents to The Reader’s Room at Mo Pitkin’s. Director Emilie Stewart predicts that, “It’s going to be a really interesting night, bringing historical scholarship of the most interesting kind to the downtown environs, when such readings are so often held ‘uptown’—and they’re both dynamic, engaging speakers (Jim’s Shakespeare class is a much coveted ‘catch’ at Columbia!).” Recommended. 7:00pm, no cover. Also worthwhile: “…Drugs, sex, art, surfing, love beads, Nixon, motorcycles, and the goal of not making a big deal out of anything…

TUESDAY, 1.31: Nicotine

WEDNESDAY, 2.1: Ecstasy

THURSDAY, 2.2: Marijuana

FRIDAY, 2.3: Caffeine

SATURDAY, 2.4: Lou Reeds signs Lou Reed’s New York at Hermes (where an exhibition of photographs from the book will be on view in the store’s gallery through February 25th); 3-5pm, FREE.

SUNDAY, 2.5: Alcohol

Monday morning fragments

  • It’s not just the NSA. The FBI and Department of Defense could be spying on you, too.
  • Forty years after that last celebratory brandy finished him off, Julian Maclaren-Ross will get a headstone
  • Novelist/comedian A.L. Kennedy: “If I’m doing political jokes I tend to be more obscene, just to keep everyone happy.”
  • Writer Katharine Weber: “Acknowledgement pages offer readers exactly the sort of map I never want to provide.”

Translation trouble: when there’s no word for “fuck”

In the current Quill & Quire (print only), Mary Soderstrom asks, “What do you do when you’re translating Leonard Cohen’s raunchy novel Beautiful Losers into a language that doesn’t have profanity?”

Just to give you a sense of what we’re talking about, here’s one of Cohen’s characters describing to his friend what happened before he fucked the friend’s wife.

We dug our index fingers in each other’s ears. I won’t deny the sexual implications. You are ready to face them now. All parts of the body are erotogenic. Assholes can be trained with whips and kisses, that’s elementary. Pricks and cunts have become monstrous! Down with genital imperialism! All flesh can come! Don’t you see what we have lost? Why have we abdicated so much pleasure to that which lives in underwear? Orgasms in the shoulder! Knees going off like firecrackers! Hair in motion! And not only caresses leading us into the nourishing anonymity of the eclimax, not only sucking and wet tubes, but wind and conversaton and a beautiful pair of gloves, fingers blushing!

The Lithuanian translator, Aiste Ptakauskaite, ultimately resorted to Russian curse words.

This weekend J.M. Coetzee writes at length in The Australian about the “necessary imperfections of translation.” Coetzee is multi-lingual, but even so he’s only been able to read two or three of the 25 different foreign-language translations of his work. For evaluations of the rest, he’s had to rely on bilingual readers.

Coetzee acknowledges that a translator, of necessity, “becomes accustomed to aiming for the best possible translation rather than a hypothetical perfect one.” But sometimes the translator can’t even get close. Continue reading…


That’s Just the Booze Talking responds to Bookforum‘s “5,300-word exegesis on why no one reads Harold Brodkey anymore.”

Our guess is that no one sees the value in his narcissistic and masturbatory self-regard, which informs every syllable of his prose and makes even a cursory reading of his fiction like taking a muddy trudge through the shallow wrack of Lake Bitchcakes. Indeed, it can be said with no measure of hyperbole that Brodkey, even more so than Norman “Cap’n Stabbin’” Mailer, was the single most solipsistic American writer of his time, which is saying something, given the navel-gazing proclivities of Updike, Bellow, Roth, et al.

Books, lost to the past or doomed in the future?

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

If you’re in an elegiac mood, there’s lots to mourn out there: the books destroyed in the past, burnt by maids or tossed off moving trains (Via the Literary Saloon); and the books of now, doomed to obscurity and possibly helped there, suggests Teresa Nielsen Hayden, by the extension of copyright.

Remains of the day

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

  • Curiously, in the wake of Frey and JT Leroy, this guy gets all sniffed out for labelling his book fiction.

  • The Guardian Book Club is podcasting. Listen to Hilary Mantel discuss her acclaimed Beyond Black. (I haven’t read it yet, because hardbacks here in Canada cost about half a month’s salary, but some Maud love is here. )

  • Various learned experts ask: Is poetry like Prozac? Or rather like an STD? (Hey, I like poetry, okay? Don’t kill the messenger.)

  • Michiko reviews Ali Smith’s The Accidental over at the Times.

  • Trend of the future, or another tempest in the making? Review copies of a new memoir by Augusten Burroughs are being sent around, and his publisher has, in seeming haste, slapped disclaimer stickers on them.

  • Steal this post

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    Scott McLemee, over at Inside Higher Ed, wonders why people continue to plagiarize, notes the rising study of plagiarism as its own academic concern (pointing us to the new journal Plagiary, and the entertaining and occasionally shocking Famous Plagiarists), and wonders where that might leave the deliberately referential:

    At the same time, scholarship on plagiarism should probably consist of something more than making strong cases against perpetrators of intellectual thievery. That has its place, of course. But how do you understand it when artists and writers make plagiarism a deliberate and unambiguous policy? I’m thinking of Kathy Acker’s novels, for example. Or the essayist and movie maker Guy Debord’s proclamation in the 1960s: “Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it.” (Which he, in turn, had copied from the avant-garde writer Lautreamont, who had died almost a century earlier.)

    The Great American Zombie Novel, part two

    This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

    As though part one were not enough, really. Good taste demands a modicum of restraint. But restraint would belong to another blog, at least on Fridays. Readers suggest more names for the Great American Zombie Novel (Try it yourself. You too will discover – it’s quite hard to stop once you begin to indulge yourself):

    Reader Karen suggests:

  • All the Pretty Zombies
  • Zombie Jones
  • A Thousand Zombies
  • Zombies Fall Apart
  • We Need to Talk about Zombies
  • Do we ever, reader Karen! Jimmy suggests “The Dead Also Rises”, while Kristina seems to be reading “Wuthering Zombies.”

    Reader Hayden had a shocking string of inspiration:

  • If On A Winter’s Night A Zombie
  • As I Rise, Undead, Shortly After Dying
  • The Zombification Of Lot 49
  • The Zombiegoer
  • Let Us Now Praise Zombified Men
  • Let Us Now Feast On Famous Men’s Brains
  • Me Talk Zombie One Day
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead
  • Franny And Zombey
  • Radical Chic and Mau-mauing the Brain Eaters
  • A Good Zombie Is Hard to Find
  • A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Zombie
  • Thus Spake Zombathustra
  • Zombey And Son
  • And finally, Susan suggests some reading for the little ones:

  • Little Zombies
  • The Zombie, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • Charlie and the Zombie Factory
  • We now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

    Harper Lee on writing

    From Roy Newquist’s 1964 interview with Harper Lee:

    You know, many writers really don’t like to write. I think this the chief complaint of so many. They hate to write; they do it under the compulsion that makes any artist the victim he is, but they loathe the process of sitting down trying to turn thoughts into reasonable sentences.

    I like to write. Sometimes I’m afraid that I like it too much because when I get into work I don’t want to leave it. As a result I’ll go for days and days without leaving the house or wherever I happen to be. I’ll go out long enough to get papers and pick up some food and that’s it. It’s strange, but instead of hating writing I love it too much.


    The Pro-Life Movement “is energized” by Alito’s likely confirmation. The Independent Florida Alligator — my alma mater’s student paper — says abortion is an issue “for the reasonable moderates across the fruited plain.” (America, America, God shed His grace on theeeeee.) And I keep tasting bile.

    If you haven’t followed the Alito hearings and the Senatorial jockeying since, you might want to know that several states are already taking up anti-abortion legislation in anticipation of Roe v. Wade‘s being overturned.

    And while Roe‘s getting all the attention, it’s far from the only precedent at stake here. On the Court, Alito would join forces with Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Kennedy to dismantle whole volumes of the last century’s jurisprudence.

    We’re talking turnabouts that could have a concrete impact, fast. Like, goodbye, Brown v. Board of Education; welcome back, segregation? Also, hello, official state churches? Hooray for poll taxes? “No chicks or spics need apply” = no problem? Continue reading…