Jack Kerouac, c. 1956 (Tom Palumbo)
Jack Kerouac was a writer’s writer. Not that he was always a master of scintillating prose or effortlessly produced one masterpiece after the other. His writing was too wild-eyed and full-speed-ahead for that. But whatever one’s opinion of his work, particularly On the Road and The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s double-barreled approach to the life of writing as an ecstatic gleap (yes, that’s a word) of wonder and pain and fireworks makes him in some ways the best damn American writer who ever lived.
Kerouac wasn’t one for debating the mechanics of the craft. But he did have some principles to live and write by. In fact, he slapped down a list of “Belief[s] and Technique[s] for Modern Prose.” 30 of ‘em. Here’s a few:
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr life
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Accept loss forever
- You’re a Genius all the time
The transferability and efficacy of some of these are debatable. Clearly. But it’s probably worth taking them out for a spin and seeing what happens.
(photo by Steve Lyon)
When I was teaching — I taught for a while — my students would write as if they were raised by wolves. Or raised on the streets. They were middle-class kids and they were ashamed of their background. They felt like unless they grew up in poverty, they had nothing to write about. Which was interesting because I had always thought that poor people were the ones who were ashamed. But it’s not. It’s middle-class people who are ashamed of their lives. And it doesn’t really matter what your life was like, you can write about anything. It’s just the writing of it that is the challenge. I felt sorry for these kids, that they thought that their whole past was absolutely worthless because it was less than remarkable.
— David Sedaris, January Magazine, June 2000
Remember, there’s a lot of stories out there, yours included. Ultimately, it’s the telling that matters.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (Warner Bros.)
Six films and who knows how many gajillion dollars of revenue later, Peter Jackson’s monumental, exhausting adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring novels comes to an end with the third film in the second Hobbit cycle. Love it or loathe it, this is the end—and it’s going out with a bang.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in all known territories next Wednesday. My review is at Film Journal International:
Amidst all the clashing armies, fell spirits, and talk of destinies and dynasties that fill J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological adventure novels, the author’s eye never drifts far from the plucky little hero who finds unknown strengths in terrifying times. Peter Jackson dutifully sounded the same tune in his films of Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. But where Tolkien was a humanist, Jackson is a strategist, ever marshaling his forces for grander victories. There’s no denying the films’ quality as battle-ready spectacle of the first order. But the final installment, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, is just about all Jackson and precious little Tolkien. In other words, if you like orc-killin’, and lots of it, this is your film…
Here’s the trailer:
Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix sleuth confusedly in ‘Inherent Vice’ (Warner Bros.)
When Thomas Pynchon published Inherent Vice in 2009, it became very clear that the revered author of Gravity’s Rainbow was still interested in his basics (baffling plots, conspiratorial confusion) but was now also cool with knocking out an honest-to-God fun read. Paul Thomas Anderson’s resume of overbusy, overcrowded Southern California anthology meta-fictions (Magnolia, in particular) would seem to make him the perfect man to bring this book to the screen.
Inherent Vice is opening this week in limited release and likely to wide befuddlement; it’ll go wider around the nation in January. My review is at Film Racket:
“Thinking comes later,” mumbles Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start of Paul Thomas Anderson’s foggy, funny film of Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelia-noir Inherent Vice, only he never quite gets around to it. A lot of things get in his way, you see, from the moment that his ex-old lady Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, an angelic , transfixing moonbeam of a smile but with not much to do here) lays on him a whole rap about needing help with her new old man. In the grand tradition of beautiful women whose true motives are submerged beneath shimmering layers of twinkle, Shasta’s initial request is more complicated and dangerous than it initially seems, particularly after she goes missing. Doc’s journey starts off being about making sure that Shasta (clearly the love of his life, though neither of them may know or want to know it) is okay, it turns into a quasi-historical tour of a Southern California counterculture circa 1970 on the verge of imploding under the weight of its own bafflement and paranoia…
Here’s the (fantastic) trailer:
There’s been some attempts to grapple with the deeper impact of what’s been happening in Ferguson—not to mention what will continue to happen in the St. Louis for months and years after the national media’s attention has turned away.
While small in focus, this book discussion group seems just about the perfect way to talk about the dangerously deep gulfs in an ever-more segregated America. According to #FerugsonReads:
This reading group is an attempt to add some civility and context to the mix by exploring race, not only in St. Louis, but America as a whole.
November’s book was Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop; chosen for obvious reasons. January’s will be Lisa Bloom’s Suspicion Nation, on how the Trayvon Martin tragedy will continue to be repeated.
Reese Witherspoon explores the great outdoors and finds herself in ‘Wild’ (Fox Searchlight)
Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild—about her brave and highly foolish decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with no training as a way of exorcising her painful past—was many things that a bestseller and Oprah often aren’t: emotionally lacerating, unexpected, vulnerable, and clear-eyed about people’s weaknesses and dark sides. For the inevitable and surprisingly spot-on film adaptation, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in what could be an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s Nick Hornby of High Fidelity behind the keyboard.
Wild hits theaters this week. My review is at Film Racket:
Strayed is first spotted on the side of a mountain, pulling a bloody toenail out after days of grueling walking in too-small boots under a groaning pack one could fit the possessions of a small nation-state into. Dropping one boot down the side of the mountain by mistake, she impulsively throws the other boot after it, screaming in rage. Director Jean-Marc Vallee shoots it in all the wrong ways, with slow-motion and elongated vocals, trying to create a drama that the story hasn’t earned yet. It’s a rough start to what is mostly a solidly-crafted and cathartic drama of discovery about a woman who nearly kills herself in order to learn how to live again…
Here’s the trailer:
Any serious reader is never satisfied with how much they’re reading. They’re more likely to be anxious and perturbed by the ever-growing stack(s) of books that threaten to blot out the season’s weak winter sun.
Still, few readers have a to-read list to rival that of Times critic Dwight Garner, who says he gets about 25 books a day in the mail and that it takes him on average 8 hours to read one. Do the math.
Here’s a few of the better lines from a recent interview with Garner:
One doesn’t review one’s friends. Having said that, “friend” is an elastic term.
A lot of books are like first dates. You know in 25 seconds if it’s going to work out.
[On whether he reads every page of every book he reviews] I do. Out of moral obligation. Also out of fear. You don’t want to miss something crucial. You want to be definitive in your pronouncements. You want to be able to write things like, “Not once in 350 pages does Mr. Borges huff paint.” You don’t want to worry about a huffing scene on Page 211 that you skipped over.