Reader’s Corner: Speakeasy Bookstore is No More

Once upon a time, you could stroll to 84th Street on the Upper East Side, ring the right doorbell at the right hour of day, and find yourself in a magical little place: Michael Seidenberg’s Brazenhead Books. Technically a rent-controlled apartment, Seidenberg ran the secretive book-stuffed space as a hybrid literary hangout, multipurpose salon, and (occasional) bookstore.

Like all such ephemeral joys, Brazenhead is coming to an end, a victim of its increasing popularity and an itchy landlord.

Jessica Loudis wrote about hanging out at Brazenhead for Aesop:

It’s not mandatory to bring a bottle of whiskey to Brazenhead Books … but failing to do so could be considered bad form. That, however, is as far as formalities extend … Business comes through word of mouth. After being greeted at the door, strangers strike up conversations that trail off once a desirable acquisition is spotted and then stay for hours, squeezing into narrow rooms teeming with classic paperbacks and pristine first editions. Seidenberg is former puppeteer and street book salesman. Last time I went to Brazenhead—having visited only once, a year earlier—he told me he had been expecting my visit, as I had made a cameo in his dream the night before.

Weekend Reading: May 22, 2015


Screening Room: Chaos Reigns in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Vroom, vroom - 'Mad Max: Fury Road' (Warner Bros.)

Vroom, vroom – ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (Warner Bros.)

madmaxfuryroad-posterIt’s been three decades since George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Things have changed. No more Mel Gibson, for one. Also, the postapocalyptic subgenre that Miller’s series helped sparked off has practically gone full mainstream. Sadly, no Tina Turner. Now, here comes Mad Max: Fury Road, with Tom Hardy in the driver’s seat.

Mad Max: Fury Road (aka, the fourth one) is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

A demolition derby of a chase scene occasionally interrupted by scraps of crackpot wit and Aussie slang-strangled dialogue, Mad Max: Fury Road burns through ammunition and fuel with abandon. You would think that the characters were video-game avatars possessed of endlessly replenishable digital supplies, not the starving and sickly remnants of humanity barely surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Unlike many action films, though, where such profligacy is determined by need for trailer-ready action beats, here it’s central to the film’s story and message…

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron fight the future (Warner Bros.)

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron fight the future (Warner Bros.)

Here’s the trailer, dig it:

Now Playing: ‘Every Secret Thing’


Diane Lane and Danielle Macdonald in ‘Every Secret Thing’ (Starz Digital)

In Amy Berg’s adaptation of the Laura Lippman domestic thriller Every Secret Thing, a pair of teenaged girls are suspected of abducting a small child years after they were convicted of stealing and murdering a baby of strikingly similar looks.

Every Secret Thing is out now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Alice (Danielle Macdonald) is both a ball of cheer and a pit of frustrated desires. She perkily pretends to audition for a reality show like some bedroom-dreaming girl many years her junior, and talks eagerly about her exercise and diet regimen. A few flashbacks to childhood humiliations and some choice scenes with her mother Helen (Diane Lane, dripping with well-meaning malice), though, make clear that Alice is marinating in a cold, calculated outsider rage even before the police come calling. Her fellow convict, Ronnie (Dakota Fanning), wears her anger right out on her raccoon-eyed, heavily made-up face. The story circumnavigates around Ronnie’s poor, straitened existence for most of the earlier stretches, focusing instead on Alice and her dreamy fantasy world in which few glimmers of reality ever seem to intrude…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Posterity and the Lack Thereof

Yes, Nebraska has writers.

Yes, Nebraska has writers.

Used to be, once a writer’s books went out of print, that was it for most of them. There might be a few copies moldering in a library’s backshelves somewhere, but generally not being out there in a bookstore or taught in a classroom meant that your work was going to be forgotten.

It would be nice to think that in the era of digital publishing, that nobody’s work will ever be forgotten. It will just sit there in the cloud, each bundle of bytes ready for download just in case anybody ever wants to read that 1960s coming-of-age novel or 1920s society-lady memoir or 2010s zombie romance (first in a tetralogy).

That’s not going to be the case for most of us, of course. The average writer lucky enough to get a chance at getting her or his book published will get that one moment of attention (maybe) before returning to the anonymity from whence they came. And that’s okay; one has to make room for the next chap coming down the way.

For some writers, there may be something like this great project from Nebrasksa’s PBS affiliate on “The Lost Writers of the Plains.” Using written and audio essays, they cover everyone from black intellectual activist Bertram Austin Lewis (who fought the good fight on minority inclusion in the academy decades before it was au courant) and Margaret Haughawout (a poet who brought modernist literature and a taste for men’s clothing to her obscure little country college).

Even those lost to time may eventually get one more shot at being remembered.

Weekend Reading: May 15, 2015


Now Playing: ‘Slow West’

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in 'Slow West' (A24)

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee get acquainted in ‘Slow West’ (A24)

Slow West Final PosterA teenaged boy embarks on an epic journey to track down the woman he loves … and bad guys intervene.

Slow West is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Indie westerns have blazed and snuck across screens for the past few years in a variety of flavors, from the lo-fi musings of Meek’s Cutoff to the bloody-minded vengeance of The Salvation. But none has been quite as surreptitiously odd and original as John Maclean’s Slow West. There are times when it plays as such a straightforward oater you wouldn’t be surprised to see a craggy Robert Duvall come riding up, Winchester rifle perched casually but authoritatively on his hip. At other moments the story slants sideways to resemble a loonier frontier-mad dream piece like Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja. It never quite stays in reach…

Here’s the trailer: