Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Times Gender Ratio Improves

As y'all may or may not know, I have beef with the stuffiness of the NYT Book Review. I've written a bunch about the gender imbalance and anti-feminist bias in its pages.

This year, though, I counted 33 out of their 2008 100 notable books as authored by women, with 15 out of 48 novels. And that's a definitely an improvement, if a small one (last year, only 13 of their 50 top novels were penned by ladies; that list comes later in the year I think). Of course, part of this was because so many powerhouse, un-snubbable female authors wrote books this year, from Germaine Greer and Jane Meyer to Jhumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison, Kate Atkinson, Annie Proulx and Curtis Sittenfield. It was a banner year for prominent female writers strutting their stuff, so the Times only gets partial credit. Still, some sort of ackowledgement is due.

In other numbers, four of the top fiction books were reviewed for one outlet or another by yours truly :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This is Why You Need to BUY BOOKS As Holiday Presents

The industry, like many others, is in trouble. Serious trouble. The best thing you can do to to help is use your shrinking pile o' $ to buy books for others and yourself.

On the writing side...that proposal you were working on for a coffee table book on elephants of the world? Might want to shove it back in the drawer. The only people getting book deals these days are Laura Bush and Joe the freaking Plumber. Sigh.

On the other hand, it might be a good time to dust off your SCREENPLAY-writing skillz...movies were, like, the only industry that flourished during the depression, 'cause everyone was so, well, depressed and needed a cinematic escape.

h/t Wendy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Evening Poem


by: Robert Browning (1812-1889)

THE gray sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

Friday, November 21, 2008

First Twilight Reviews

And by Cullen, I think they like it.
This is my favorite line from Dana Stevens' (who is always-worth-reading) review;
"As a life lesson for teenage girls, Twilight (excuse the pun) sucks. As a parable for the dark side of female desire, it's weirdly powerful."

UPDATE: Manohla Dargis is less amused. Quoth she:
"Faced with the partially clad Bella (who would bite if she could), Edward recoils from her like a distraught Victorian. Like Ms. Hardwicke, the poor boy has been defanged and almost entirely drained. He’s so lifeless, he might as well be dead — oops, he already is."
Previously: Feminist analysis of Twilight @ Huffpo, my review of Twilight.

Happy reading/watching.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roundup in Bookish World

Some truly amazing links today in the world of literary pop culture.

First, Twilight-mania continues:
  • Jezebel uses Twilight to look at the teenage trend-follower vs. stalwart trend-ignorer phenomenon:
    "For every group of girls screaming at a mall appearance, there's an equally fierce group of deliberate trend-buckers, defining themselves by their scorn for what's popular."
'Tis true. There's not much room for nuance in the early teen years. Of course, some of us didn't fall on either side of the dividing line, but quietly lusted after teen idols (I think Leo DiCaprio was the Rob Pattinson of my era) while remaining somewhat buttoned up about it. In other words, no posters, no screaming, no obsessive re-watching. Just dreaming and heart-fluttering.
  • EW covers the "Twilight" premiere madness quite well. Read the insane comments for a laugh.
  • Speaking of books beloved by teenage girls (but somewhat ignored because of the fangirls' skin color) USA Today interviews Sister Souljah, author of The Coldest Winter ever about her new bestselling prequel, Midnight. Souljah refuses to call herself an "urban lit" writer. She says
    "Shakespeare wrote about love. I write about love. Shakespeare wrote about gang warfare, family feuds and revenge. I write about all the same things."
    Still, whether it's categorizable or not, Coldest (with some help from Zane) kicked off a hugely popular genre. Urban lit is an undebiable phenomenon that owes a lot to Souljah. My students loved this book, and I definitely want to read it myself. Check out the sidebar for her wicked response to the phrase, "Sister Souljah moment."
  • Jeffrey Goldberg puts George Eliot at the top of a silly but funny list of Philo-semites--a topic near and dear to my blog-heart. I nominate fictional characters Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe and Annemarie, from Number the Stars, in the category of "imaginary philo-semites."

The Writing Life, part 1 bilion

So I'm currently working on four pieces: a profile of a prominent academic and writer, a reported story on reproductive health issues in the Obama transition process, a news story about school zoning on the Upper West Side, and I'm sowing the seeds on a piece on vampires in pop culture as repositories for socio-sexual anxieties (just guess which one I'm most excited by?). Anyway, it's funny because I have all these documents open, and I keep getting phone calls and depending on the identity of the caller, having to shuffle frantically between pages with phrases on them like "playground facilities" and "working parents" and "democratic party platform" and "black women's experience in America" and "Lestat." The combination is giving me quite the absurdist outlook on all these topics.

On deck, along with Lestat and Buffy and Edward Cullen, is a profile of a prominent children's theater. Coherence much?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


So I'm doing NaNoWriMo. There's absolutely no way I'll make it to 50,000 words by next Friday as I'm only just over a tenth of the way there, I didn't start til the 11th, and I'm not 100% committed to my project. I have another writing project that is more polished, and needs more polishing, and then selling, but I don't want to have all my eggs in one basket. Plus!! it's fun to put some of that post-election creative energy into something, well, creative.

My novel takes elements from Edith Wharton and sets them in a NYC prep school. It's totally depressing, but also kind of a fun exercise, and also an exorcism of those prep-school demons that DO get in the way of other literary endeavors for us grads of such traumatizing institutions. Unless we're named Curtis Sittenfield.

As you can see, there's a widget here and on the side of my blog showing my meager progress. If anyone wants to be my buddy, this is my page.

Happy writing!

The Historian

The Historian The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

A bestseller of recent years, The Historian piqued my interest because I've seen it compared to The Thirteenth Tale and The Da Vinci Code, both of which I really enjoyed (suck it, haters) and also because it's about vampires, and it's the season of the vamp.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse and Twilight craze of today, though, The Historian is old-school in its treatment of the undead. In fact, it's kind of like a sequel/companion to the under-appreciated Stoker Dracula,, in that Kostova's description of the Count is totally similar to Stoker's (and similarly creepy: the hairy, long fingers, the musty smell, the slight nausea felt by those near him. YUCK) and Stoker is referenced through the book as someone who wrote ficton, but got his vampire anthropology eerily right.

The reasons for the Dan Brown and Setterfield comparisons is that The Historian's a historical mystery, one solved through discovering manuscripts and clandestine visits to ruins and late nights reading. The Da Vinci Code parallels are obvious in the characters' endless criss-crossing of Europe, going to chapels and libraries and tombs to decipher their hidden pasts. The Historian also shares this new "women+their books" obsession with Daphne + The Thirteenth Tale. The romance in these tomes is not between the lady and the Vampire, but between the lady and the page, musty, yellowing, and full of secrets.

The actual mystery in Kostova's book is the whereabouts of Vlad the Impaler's (aka Vlad Drakyula) tomb, a mystery passed on by mysterious means to a set of scholars over the centuries. None have been able to solve it, yet. But what's even more unsettling than the mystery is what solving it might reveal: that Vlad doesn't rest in his tomb, and instead he still walks among us to this day! Cue menacing peals of laughter. The protagonist, a budding historian, and her father, are caught up in the chase, and she stands to learn some things about her family and self in the process.

So did I like the book? At times it was thrilling, and creepy, and beautifully written. It is much more literary and serious than Da Vinci, with a more interesting set of characters and a slower pace. That being said, it's a really lengthy, studious read, and considering that it doesn't reveal much about humanity, it's kind of paradoxical: a detailed, careful thriller, a laborious beach read, a chase that's also a meditation. But for serious, committed bookworms who love the vampire legend and want more, I'd say read it, and skim with impunity.

View all my reviews.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Austen-mania says: "Rumors of my demise have been most unfortunately overindulged"

Who said Austen mini-serieses and films were finis, stepping aside to give the dark romance of the Brontes and the comical commentary of Dickens their moment in the mini-series sun?

Austenblog reports on the rumors that there's a new BBC Emma in the works. I hope so, because neither the Kate Beckinsalee "grumpy" version nor the Gwynneth Paltrow "ditzy" version totally work as adaptations of the novel's esprit. Clueless is the best film version of Emma so far.

The Austenblog community is starting a campaign to get Richard Armitage, aka the smouldering hero of North and South cast as Mr. Knightley, thereby consummating a union devoutly wished by Austen-fans throughout the world. Also rumored to be screenwriting is Sandy Welch, who did both the admirable Cranford and the wonderful Jane Eyre and is fast becoming the new Andrew Davies.

It's a very exciting development, if it's true.

Bruce Rumors Substantiated

As predicted, there will now be a Bruce album for every major event in our decade's history: The Rising for 9/11, Devils and Dust for the war, Magic for the Bush Era, and Workin' on a Dream for Obama's first week as president.

Word to that!

Monday Morning Poem: A Day

A Day
by Emily Dickinson

I'll tell you how the sun rose,
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

'Twilight'-Mania, redux, has officially begun

I'll try to keep up with some of the insanity this week... my feelings about the series are on the record...

The LA Times goes to Forks, Washington, (a town Meyer never visited but picked because it's the rainiest place in the continental US) to discover the world of Twi-tourism cash-ins:

Many locals have played along with the themes in the Twilight books -- and business has boomed.

"It's not that hard to put [Twilighters] over the edge," said Julie Hjelmeset, the inn's manager. She transformed the double-queen bedroom in the otherwise run-of-the-mill hotel by swapping the white linens and towels for racier black-and-red versions and resting imitation long-stemmed roses on the beds. Bella's Suite fetches double the rate of a regular room -- $149 a night versus $74.

The driving force behind the town's resurgence is the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

It was the head of the Chamber who reached out to the owners of a house to see if they'd be willing to place a "Home of the Swans" sign in their lushly landscaped yard. According to homeowner Kim McIrvin, thousands of visitors have since stopped by the two-story blue bungalow to snap pictures and to imagine Edward sneaking in through the upstairs window.

Following McIrvin's lead, another Chamber member offered to transform her bed-and-breakfast into "the Cullen house." The door to the large mailbox now reads "Cullen," along with the Miller Tree Inn wording that's been there for years, and a sign on the front porch is updated with daily messages from the fictional family's matriarch, Esme.

And Salon sits down with film director Catherine Hardwicke, who totally sidesteps the feminist questions. Personally, I would remove the F-word when asking Meyer/Hardwicke/others about the books, and talk instead about the absolute pathetic weakness of the main character.

But that's me. Here's the most interesting thing Hardwicke said:

From a teenage point of view, there's also the metaphor that the vampire has all these hormonal feelings and desires to want to kill their victims. It's in your body. It's pulsing through your veins. You become a teenager and you suddenly have this surge of new feelings that you're not supposed to act on. You're really not supposed to attack every girl you see and try to have sex with her -- or with every guy. Edward is fighting his natural animal impulses, as a lot of teenagers are.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stephen C. on Jane A.

Starts around 1:45.

Stephen get a tip of the EBC hat for mentioning Jane, and a wag of the EBC finger for doing a little bit of the Joe Wright/Becoming Jane Bronte-fying of Austen that makes us most seriously displeased.

H/T to Mags for reminding me to post this--I got all excited when I saw it last night but distracted by laundry and deadlines this morn.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What the Dickens?

Have you heard the literary news? Dickens is totes the new Austen, except he's usually 500 pages longer, more exaggeratedly satirical, and more angry about social ills such as (try and read these to yourself in a cockney accent): industrialization, sooty streets, orphans, corporal punishment, factories, workhouses, debtor's prisons, ridiculous court systems, layabout youths (Richard Carstone, ahem) thieving Jews (you gotta love Fagin), indifferent upper class snobs and diffident bureaucrats.

Also, pseudo-proto-feminist bitter old virgin-brides who are living embodiments of dried-up lady parts.

Oh and ALSO...tyrranical schoolmasters who are coincidentally named... wait for it... wait for it... MR. CHOAKUMCHILD. Subtle, the man was not. But he may have changed society more than any other novelist save Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Wherefore this stream of confusing Dickens-trivia, you ask ? Because Romancing the Tome tells us that Masterpiece Classic is airing an "incomplete Dickens season" this year, featuring Little Dorrit, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.

I'm personally a huge fan of the Dickens mini-series: the 90s-era Martin Chuzzlewit and Our Mutual Friend are the genre at its absolute finest, and inducted me into the cult of 19th century adaptations. I wish they would re-air those. 2006's Bleak House was also deservedly hyped.

I also happen to be a big fan of the man's books: I've read five, two of which were among the best books I've ever read, three of which were difficult but ultimately rewarding. I'm going to tackle Little Dorrit next, to prep for the mini-series which airs in early '09. It will be my major 19th century project of the year, and I hope it's more like David Copperfield, which took me two weeks of ravenous reading, and less like Bleak House, which took me three and a half months of sheer willpower.

Waking Up

I'm still euphoric about our new American promise, and I do think things are better, but my whole "American Is Better than Europe Phase" may be drawing to a close. A day of reading the internetz can be sobering: homophobic idiocy, conventional wisdom hawkers stating that unions are hurting the economy and need to be broken, and when I turn from the comp---rainy weather.

But it's good in a way to keep in mind that we fiery activist types still have a lot of work to do. I'm going to use these liminal* days to energize myself for the next round of fightin' for justice and so on.

On another note entirely, does anyone know whether the proper term for the hat Ms. Jolie is wearing is a "cloche"? As a fan of hats, I am curious.
*Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold"[1]) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

EBC link'o'the day: Rebecca Traister on Michelle Obama

I'm going to try and do more of these linkage thingies. I don't really have the time to analyze every interesting literary and feminist and leftist article that comes my way, but I'd like to at least highlight my favorites.

So this is, so far, the most important recent article on the Jackie-fication of Michelle Obama: the reduction of an Ivy-educated hotshot to a fashion plate and mom. I wrote about this after Michelle's speach at the contention. I'd only add that both of the Obamas are experts at choosing substance over image. What I mean by this is, they are willing to make superficial compromises if it helps them achieve their goals. Only time will tell what their actual actions and policies look like. So before we freak out about the bondage of Michelle, let's give her a chance to do things her own way.

That having been said, it's important to consider the media's willing complicity on this:

But why have so many people who should know better so readily accepted this incomplete image of the future first lady? It is possible, I suppose, that some have forgotten that Michelle Obama is more than a pair of ovaries with a commitment to organic food and the sales at J. Crew. But there is also the distinct whiff of relief in the momification of Michelle, and in the regress to Camelot. It's as though the American media -- exhausted after the progressive exertions of having to be respectful and not misogynist about two women running for political office -- has loosened its belt and is relaxing back into a world in which all you have to do is write about what they wear and how they mother.

Monday, November 10, 2008

If you visit one site today...

make it for hours of joy. taking "that dumbass shit that all the conservative college students amused themselves with during the darkest years of our nation's modern history and reclaim[ing] it for the new age of hope, reason, and truth."

Monday Morning Poem Excerpt: "Let America Be America Again"

by Langston Hughes
[This is the last few stanzas. Read the full thing here]

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Maureen Dowd hath problems, part ???

From her column today. Not only is she racist in a really appallingly obtuse way, but she misquoted EBC favorite author, Toni Morrison.

I heard my cute black mailman talking in an excited voice outside my house Friday, so I decided I should go ask him how he was feeling about everything, the absolute amazement of the first black president. If you don't count what Toni Morrison said about Bill Clinton, that is.

But should we count it? Was Barack Obama the first or the second black president, or alternatively, the first half-white, half-black president?

I eagerly swung my front door open and joined the mailman's conversation.

"Are you talking about the election?" I said brightly. "How do you feel?"
He shot me a look of bemused disdain as he walked away. I suddenly realized, with embarrassment, that he was on his Bluetooth, deep in a personal conversation that had nothing to do with Barack Obama.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

January 20th, 2009

Obama's inauguration is gonna feel like this.

Because I wanted to the the first to start this meme.

The hobbits, BTW, are all of us.

Stumble It!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Well, It Took 450 pages...

but The Historian has finally gotten un-put-downable. I'm definitely going to finish it this weekend! (the whole thing is 700 pages.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I've been on the Obama train longer than I thought

Looking back through my Obama entries because I want to savor this moment, I'm embarrassed that I complained about President Elect Barry-O a lot on this blog at the beginning of the primaries... but in my defense, just because he wasn't being enough of a badass for my hopeful tastes. Still, he's changed a lot as a candidate and again, somewhere along the way I became utterly besotted. Plus, the history of this blog reveals that I've long had a soft spot for him. Here are my fave Obama posts.

  • In March '07, I blogged about how much I liked his book and how impressed I was with him, even though his writing left much of his personality guarded. I think I understand now that that is his personality: he is a consummate listener, a peace broker by nature, not design. I'd imagine this very presidential personality trait has a lot to do with his dad's abandonment, his long separation from his mom, and his biracial identity, and I'll leave the rest to Freud :) It's a lovely book, folks, and now is the time to relax and read it. A president who's a great writer and required no ghost-writer or co-writer to pen his books? Awesome.
  • I kicked off my Monday Morning poem segment with Claude McKay's brilliant The White House, which now seems [partially] a relic of another time. It's funny how literature--from this poem through Tupac, reveals how much a black president has been a particularly potent symbolic dream.
  • BRUCE + Barack = progressive woman's fantasy come true:) And now we hear that the Boss is releasing a new album in time for the inauguration? Too awesome. If this is true, and the album is good, then The Rising+Magic+Hopeyhopeful album #3 will be this amazing trilogy that sums up the entire decade in song. Damn.
And that's it, folks. Back to book-blogging (and reading, and watching TV that's not cable news, and not tripping over my own two feet) next week.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Night Celebration in Harlem

I've never seen so many people on the steets, save when the Yankees used to regularly win the world series. Except this time, it was like TEAM HUMANITY won the world series of LIFE.

125th street celebrates the victory of Barack Obama.

The whole street was closed off. (note the Apollo in the distance)

Barack on the big screen.

The sidewalks were crammed.

People watching CNN.

[more photos of canvassing in Philly, Halloween and election night towards the end of this facebook album for those who are my virtual amies]


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted, Did You?

I was so proud to cast my ballot/pull my lever for Barack Obama today.

I boarded the Obama-train early (my college buds and I were obsessed with his 2004 speech. We smoked out of our homemade water-pipe, barack obong-a, and then listened to the speech on repeat. We were real cool), but was an Edwards girl in this race at first as a healthcare/poverty issues, coif-loving thing. I was initially disappointed by how cagey and stolid Obama seemed. Then I was enamored with Clinton when the media started beating up on her, and then... her camp started race-baiting and I voted for Obama a bit unenthusiastically.

I don't know when I started to love him so much. But I sure do now!

I think that looking back on the primary, Obama has adopted some of both his opponents best qualities. He's become more populist and his healthcare plan is more progressive, thanks in part to Edwards. He's become tougher, calmer, lost a little of his snarky edge, thanks to Hillary. And he's built an incredible ground game and gained experience thanks to the long, hard-fought primary.

I just love him so much these days, for his grace, his somewhat dorky sense of humor, his human side which he's shown more recently, his obvious intelligence and thoughtfulness, and his strong, unabashedly smarty-pants wife. I'm proud of our party for nominating him and proud of our country (fingers crossed) for embracing him. I won't agree with much of what he does, but I will agree with the choice. He is a huge step forward for our country.

This has been more than an election: it's a movement. I've never seen my politically wonky family and friends more involved: my mom and brother have gone to Ohio. My brother took his fifteen year old mentee to knock on doors in NH. I've been to NH and Pennsylvania with my partner and our close friends. My dad organized a massive fundraiser for the organized labor/legal community in NYC. My boyfriend's family have been manning the compu-phonebanks nonstop and connecting with voters everywhere. It's incredible! This campaign has inspired and moved so many of us... I hope it's enough. I've got my fingers crossed while I obsessively putter around the house for the few hours until we KNOW something.


feel free to share your vote/campaign stories if you too want to kill time.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Monday Morning Poem: for Barack

one day to go...

I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Me as Sarah Palin

Those are my companions, Joe the Plumber and Russia, whom I can see from my doorstep.

doing my foreign policy hw so I can be ready next time Katie Couric tries to zing me.

Joe sure hates taxes!
(Ignore the sign behind him, we were at the house of some un-American folks. They were of the Hebrew persuasion, if you know what I mean.)

with my field-dressed moose at the Halloween Parade in Fake America, the bastion of the gotcha liberal media. You betcha!

Funny thang. There were 9 other Sarah Palins there, and 11 other Joes-the-plumbers! I also saw my daughter Bristol with my son-in-law Levi and my adorable disabled anti-choice prop son Trig.