WordsDay: Literature

WordsDay: The “Big Book” and its discontents…

Every writer wants a “Big Book”; the question is – why…?

One of the phenomena of the last 30-40 years of publishing has been the “Big Book.” You know the language that is associated with such works: “Must Read!” “Stunning!” “A Triumph!” These “career making” successes have been, for the most part, mixed blessings for the writers lucky? talented? deserving? enough to catch the zeitgeist of the reading public. Some writers have used these as springboards to great commercial success; others, usually the literary fiction types like Michael Ondaatje, the subject of this essay and the author of The English Patient, have found them helpful (Mr. Ondaatje has had a long, distinguished career in literary work as both a poet and novelist before and after this novel found great success) – at least, I assume he found it so.

I’ve chosen a few “Big Book” selections for my 2014 reading list and its update. The English Patient is the first of these and in both its iterations it reflects the classic characteristics of the “Big Book” phenomenon…. Continue reading


Fantasy reboots: What if David Lynch had directed Caddyshack?

It started innocently enough, as these things often do, with our boy Dan Ryan on Facebook wishing there was a video of the gopher from Caddyshack dancing to “Water of Love” by Dire Straits. Which, turns out, is actually a thing. That caused me, for some odd reason, to wonder what the movie would have been like if David Lynch had directed.

Then Jim Booth got involved, and it was all downhill from there.

So here it is, our best guess as to how Lynch would have cast the film, along with some plausible plot twists. Continue reading

Arts and Literature

ArtSunday: My Terry Pratchett Problem…the “there” there….

To paraphrase Jimi, there are writers – make that readers – I do not understand…

The Discworld Graphic Novels (The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic) by Terry Pratchett (image courtesy Goodreads)

I admit readily that I am no fan of science fiction and fantasy. I like Tolkien fine, but having read the Rings trilogy in college and The Hobbit my first year out of undergrad school for my first teaching job, I have felt absolutely no urge/desire/itch/yen to read those works again. During that same period of my life I read the Asimov Foundation trilogy, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, all at the behest of friends whose intelligence and taste I respect deeply. I found them interesting, as I find any well told story interesting, but I was not been inspired to read more by Asimov, Heinlein, or Herbert. See first sentence of paragraph.

Around the time that I read The Hobbit, I stumbled upon Phillip K. Dick (remember, I am not an activist sci-fi reader). I enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – yet I have read no other Phillip K. Dick.

Later on younger friends whose intelligence and taste I respect pushed me to wrestle with one of sci-fi’s cousins, cyberpunk. I dutifully read Gibson’s Neuromancer and a story or two by Bruce Sterling. Interesting stuff – but, as you’ve guessed by now, I’ve read no more. Continue reading


An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, or why does anybody want to be a writer?

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” applies not just to Lord Byron but to every writer…

An Insider’s Guide to Publishing by David Comfort (image courtesy Goodreads)

David Comfort’s latest book, An Insider’s Guide to Publishing, is not the “nuts and bolts” sort of a book you’d expect from its title. Instead, Comfort has written a longish (nearly 300 pages) compendium of anecdotes, explanations, analyses, and observations on writers and writing, the publishing industry past and present, and the role of technology in that past, present, and future of literature.

The book is alternately charming and churlish, funny and depressing, and, well, engrossing. Unlike most books in this genre, Comfort doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince the reader that “if you do this, you’ll be the next E.L. James” (the author of the mega success Fifty Shades of Grey). Instead, he delves into the story of E.L. James and explains – carefully but tongue firmly in cheek – how a writer who can’t write worth a damn can make $1 million per week from sales of what is popularly called “Mommy porn.” Continue reading

Bold prediction: outraged conservatives will not insist that Ann Coulter apologize to Melissa Harris-Perry

Did you see this?

Ann Coulter Calls Melissa Harris-Perry a ‘Token’ Black

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter insinuated on Monday that MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry was a token African American on the cable network. Coulter was on Fox New’s Hannity show discussing Harris-Perry’s apology over comments made on her show about Mitt Romney’s black grandchild. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

Duck (Dynasty) and cover: intolerance, ignorance and the “politically correct”

by Patrick Vecchio

Sometimes it’s okay to be intolerant of ignorance.

A sign on my hometown’s main street claims political correctness and intolerance are driving the furor over remarks by Phil Robertson, star of the A&E Network show Duck Dynasty.

A story found on the Fox News website provides a link to the GQ magazine article in which Robertson said, among other things: “I never heard one … black person say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!” Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Bobby Jindal doesn’t understand the First Amendment

2016 presidential hopeful’s defense of Duck Dynasty star’s homophobic comments suggests a deep misunderstanding of what the Constitution says.

Here we go again.

The great thing about Duck Dynasty-style blowups is that they provide dumbasses a chance to trot their dumbassery out for public display. Take Louisiana governor (and prospective 2016 presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal, whose comments this morning suggest that he doesn’t understand Constitution even a little bit. Continue reading


ArtSunday: The diversionary tactics of love and laughter…

From screwball comedy to – well, screwball comedy

Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (image courtest Wikimedia)

I’m in the midst of reading a detailed architectural history of my hometown, Eden, NC, a gift from my lovely and talented mate. While interesting (to me, anyway, since I’m from there), it is a tad on the dry side (though well done as such tomes go) and a slow read as a result. I’ll review that after Thanksgiving. To divert us in the meantime, I’ll do a little of what I’ve complained about academics doing (and which I did plenty of at earlier points in my career) and write a nice little popular culture analysis.

This past Friday (sad anniversary though it was) I watched TCM’s  Friday Night Spotlight. This regular feature of the “old movies channel” as some think of them (I think of them as a national resource for learning about film history) has focused on screwball comedies of the 1930′s-early 1940′s. Continue reading


The Kennedy assassination: from Camelot to Clusterfuck

Yes, I know precisely where I was when someone murdered John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No, I do not want to hear where the hell you were. Nor do I want to read or watch any “retrospectives” on his assassination. Nor do I want to read or watch orations on what might have been had the shot or shots missed. I’m only concerned with what the hell actually happened in and to America since Kennedy died.

A half century has passed since my infatuation with Camelot. Fifty years have passed since the naïveté of my youth promised me wars will end, peace will reign, and society will be equitable. Even after the brutality of Daley’s thugs disrupted the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, Camelot sang as my siren. Even after gunfire from the National Guard killed four students at Kent State, I still believed in what the precisely cultivated mass mediations of JFK presented to me while he lived. Even after Nixon and his protect-me politics of Watergate, I had faith in process, politics, and people — even some politicians.
Continue reading


John F. Kennedy is still dead: that much we know…

JFK and my-my-my generation…

John F. Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade moments before his assassination (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I’ll start by quoting myself – a typically Boomer act of self-absorbed self-reference. First, from an email discussion among S&R writers about whether or not we should write about the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination:

JFK is the story of the Boomers – so many advantages, so much potential, so little realized. That we ended as we did may be a psychological reaction to seeing a guy seemingly about to do big things get his brains blown out. And never, ever getting an explanation that didn’t have logic holes, political meddling, and scary implications about the lie we want most fervently to believe about life – that we can know anything for sure. Continue reading

The hoax is a hoax: Andy Kaufman is ALIVE! (You heard it here first.)

So, it’s been kind of a confusing story to follow, but Andy Kaufman’s brother announced that Andy faked his death to escape the spotlight, is still alive and living in hiding, and has a daughter. Then the daughter materializes. Then it’s revealed that she’s an actress and it’s all an elaborate hoax.

Or is it? Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

WordsDay: Modernism, postmodernism, storytelling, and the struggle between writers and readers

Should writers care about readers?

Rudyard Kipling, old fashioned storyteller (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This starts with a conversation I had in graduate school. I was trying to decide which author I would focus on for my master’s thesis. I knew it wouldn’t be a poet (I adore poetry and have a large number of poets whose work I admire and love to read and discuss, but I’m a prose writer myself and I felt I’d be more simpatico working with someone who did what I do), and I knew I wanted to choose someone who hadn’t been, in the words of my adviser, “done to death.” This was the early 1980′s and my school’s English department was actively discouraging students from writing any more theses on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Kerouac, Ginsberg or any Beats – and you couldn’t even whisper that you wanted to write about a Romantic. We Boomers had worn out professors’ patience writing – and writing – and writing about these same authors. Continue reading

Lou Reed is dead: rock music loses another legend

Lou Reed walked on the wild side

Lou Reed, legendary rock musician and friend and colleague of Andy Warhol, John Cale, and Delmore Schwartz, is dead at age 71. While his work with Velvet Underground was initially not widely popular (although more popular than one supposes), the group was undeniably influential. Reed’s later solo work included both mainstream successes such as his top 40 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” and avant garde precursors of noise rock such as Metal Machine Music. Continue reading

Facebook - Unshare

The UNSHARE button: Can we all just step away from the propaganda?

Our social media activities would benefit from a dose of critical thinking.

A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on. – Terry Pratchett

I had an exchange with my sister earlier about something she had shared on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the one alleging that 11 US states now have “More People on Welfare than they do Employed.” Hint number one: cluelessness regarding the mysteries of punctuation. And no, I won’t link to it. Continue reading


Grandma Moses: artist as celebrity

Cover, The Essential Grandma Moses by Jane Kallir (courtesy, Goodreads)

Art books tend to be heavy duty critical affairs like the Arthur Danto work I reviewed earlier  this year or large tomes full of beautiful reproductions of a master’s work that have the feel, despite their higher purpose, of coffee table books.  The books between seem to err either on the side of wanting to offer historical fiction as analysis of an artist’s oeuvre or oversimplification of an artist’s complexity – reductio ars ad absurdum, one might call it in very incorrect Latin – in order to “explain” art or an artist so that its (or his/her) worth seems undeniable to even the most philistine of audiences so as to help them learn to appreciate and support art.

Good luck with that. Continue reading

Arts and Literature

Our psychopath Congress

Government shutdown, debt crisis reveal how much GOP has in common with other sociopaths…

Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris?

I believe Philip K. Dick had it right in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Technology had, in that not-so-distant future, created androids that were nearly indistinguishable from humans. The one thing people had that the Nexus 6s didn’t, the quality that made them essentially human, was empathy. Continue reading


Open letter to Sinéad O’Connor re: the Miley Cyrus controversy


Not feminism.

Dear Sinéad,

Let me begin with a compliment. Your letter to Miley Cyrus the other day was spot on in its articulation of the corporate music machine dynamic and the way it uses people, especially, pretty women, to its own amoral ends. Your employ of words like “prostitute” and “pimp” was as accurate and appropriate as it was provocative. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

BBC blows climate coverage, again

This is dispiriting. Why the BBC, of all media, continues to do this defies reason—although there probably is a reason for it, just a really stupid one. As we all know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) started releasing its next round of reports last week. And as we all know, the global warming deniers—those that are left, anyway—are all set to denounce it. Except the BBC apparently couldn’t find any scientist in the UK who was prepared to do this. The Guardian’s John Ashton takes it from here, reporting that when the IPCC Summary came along last Friday:

At breakfast time, Radio 4′s Today programme informed listeners that despite extensive efforts, the BBC had been unable to find a single British scientist willing to challenge the IPCC’s findings. At that point the BBC might have concluded that the IPCC’s views represent an overwhelming consensus and left it at that.

So then what happened? Continue reading