After having gone from being the rare gangsta rapper who had actually lived the life instead of just rapping about it to loud monotone fixture on Law & Order: SVU and too many horrendous movies to count, Ice-T has a new gig: Recording audiobooks. It makes sense, given his clear, bottom-heavy voice. But according to Paste, he talked on a recent podcast about running into some trouble recording an unnamed Dungeons & Dragons novel. Just realizing the depths of nerd-dom that he’d gotten into (“They were talking about ‘pegasuses’ and ‘pegasi.’ That’s horses with wings”) was an education in itself:
It took Ice three-and-a-half hours to record 25 pages of the book, whose title he does not reveal. But, he added, he will slay the fantasy-lingo dragon and let fans know when the audiobook goes on sale.
“It’ll be a treat to watch me, with my South Central-educated ass, trying to read some Dungeons & Dragons shit,” he promises.
The O.G. further notes that “Considering the way music is right now, you’re better off listening to a book … Honestly, it’s more entertaining.”
Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments was one of the great music novels of the past few decades. Published in 1989 and serving as the start for Doyle’s unofficial “Barrytown Trilogy” (also comprising The Van and The Snapper), it followed knockabout Dubliner Jimmy Rabbitte’s attempt to put together a great soul/R&B band with nothing but Irishmen. Doyle’s newest novel, The Guts, picks up with Jimmy many years on, still working with music but saddled with middle-aged responsibilities and a new problem: Cancer.
My review of The Guts is at PopMatters:
Jimmy’s reflexive fear of sentiment is a powerful force in the book, and it works both for and against what Doyle is trying to achieve. In refusing to turn Jimmy into some sad, caterwauling victim baying at the moon, Doyle keeps the book from being just another sickness story. It’s Jimmy’s story through and through. Within a few dozen pages, he has pushed on past the cancer and is concerned more with the other matters that will not wait; family, the bills, what to do about that old female friend he just ran into who seems keen. Most problematic is work at the small excavatory Irish music site he started (“Finding old bands and finding the people who loved them”) whose fortunes were as bitterly unforgiving as any 21st century creative enterprise…
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote: “Folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they’re always wrong.”
One more note on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Back in 2004, he was interviewed by The Believer and the talk sprawled over beyond life and acting into things literary.
Hoffman has played a few great figures from both sides of the literary page (Willy Loman, Truman Capote), but that’s not what gave him the credentials for this interview, it’s that he was clearly a passionate reader. Not a lot people out there these days who will stand up and shout for the dark glories of somebody like Richard Yates:
If you do any great art you’re somehow exposing a part of you. Like Richard Yates, Jesus Christ, that book, you almost don’t want to meet him. I kept feeling for the characters as if they existed.
But perhaps most beautifully, he identifies one of the great solaces of reading, that it’s an act in and of itself with no need to be justified. Some won’t care for his comparing it to smoking, but the linkage is clear:
When you read, you think, and when you smoke, you think. It’s a pleasurable thing, and not a duty.
Language is a virus from outer space.
—William S. Burroughs
Burroughs, who would have turned 100 yesterday, liked to repeat this quote and variations on its theme in his speaking and writing. Like with much else that he put out there, it’s not meant to be taken with complete seriousness, but he certainly believed in the metaphor of words and ideas as a virus that can spread with disease-like rapdity.
Along those lines, check out China Mieville’s science-fiction novel Embassytown, in which (among other oddities) he invents an alien race which is actually sickened by words and the transmission thereof. I wrote about the book for The Millions.
Every year, BookFinder.com compiles a list of the 100 most sought-after out-of-print books. Their 11th annual list was just released and it’s quite the read.
For our sins, the #1 title is Madonna’s oh-so-scandalous “book” Sex. Stephen King makes a few high-up appearances, most surprisingly for the little-known My Little Pony, which was released as a limited edition in 1989 with illustrations by Barbara Kruger. Some other highlights:
- Nora Roberts (?!) – Promise Me Tomorrow
- Cameron Crowe – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
- Salvador Dali, J.R.R. Tolkien, others – The Jerusalem Bible
- Ricky Jay – Cards as Weapons
Mostly remembered today as the man who wrote White Fang, in his time Jack London was one of the most popular living American authors. He was as celebrated for his wideranging command of styles (adventure stories to science fiction and political polemics) to his wildly wolfish and nomadic lifestyle. London was a heroic striver or sadistic bastard, depending on who you asked. He showed up in last year’s historical gothic horror novel The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates as a bullying alcoholic who appeared able to drink everybody under the table and then write a bestselling novel about it.
In the Weekly Standard‘s review of the new London biography by Earle Labor, William Pritchard notes that London’s prodigious literary output (50 books, 200 short stories, 400 nonfiction pieces) looks so impressive not just due to how swiftly it was delivered (he died at age 40) but to how much life he packed in when not writing:
…working as an adolescent in a cannery and as an “oyster pirate” on Oakland’s waterfront; going on a seal hunt in the Bering Sea; riding the rails across America, with an interlude of 30 days spent in the Erie County Penitentiary for vagrancy; finding out how the poor live in London’s East End; joining the gold rush to the Klondike; running for mayor of Oakland on the Socialist ticket; sailing to the South Pacific and visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave in Samoa; observing cannibals in the Solomon Islands. This is only the beginning of a list that doesn’t include his two marriages, his fathering two children with his first wife Bella, or his periodic intakes of large quantities of alcohol—all the while becoming, by 1915, the highest-paid author in America.
George Orwell called London “A Socialist with the instincts of a buccaneer,” which seems to get it about right.
Best-of lists are particularly absurd when it comes to books, with thousands of titles being released in 2013 alone and easily hundreds of them most likely being worth forking over $25 for. But nevertheless it’s helpful to pull notable ones out of the stacks of new releases; otherwise where would you even get started?
To that end, I published a piece over at PopMatters with short writeups on my 15 favorite books of 2013. It’s a good collection with something for everybody, fantasy to military history, graphic novels to current affairs, Thomas Pynchon to Scientology. You can read it here.
The last time James “A Million Little Pieces” Frey was heard from, he was writing a novel about Christ called The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. There was some chest-thumping about how shocking it was going to be (“Be moved, be enraged, be enthralled by this extraordinary masterpiece” the press material said) but then it came out and promptly dropped from sight, as though he were the anti-Salman Rushdie.
Now, he’s cropped up again, this time with a $2 million deal for a YA novel called Endgame. This is the story, according to Deadline:
In a world similar to Earth, there are 12 bloodlines, or races. Each bloodline has a champion between the ages of 13 and 17 who is trained as a warrior and is always ready to do battle. When they turn 18, the teen warrior behind them gets promoted. This has been the case for hundreds of years, but no one remembers why — they’re always ready for some sort of battle to take place, but it never does. But the tradition continues. And then one day they’re called to fight, and all the bloodlines but the winners will be exterminated. They’re fighting to be the last race.
Besides awesomely resurrecting the old “In a world” movie trailer trope, that description sounds suspiciously like an amalgam of I Am Number Four, the YA novel about alien races battling on Earth which he co-wrote under a pseudonym as part of Frey’s Full Fathom Five fiction chopshop, and a certain series about teenagers fighting to the death. There’s also some mysterious involvement by Google, but that remains under wraps.
It’s a canny move for Frey, who was smart enough to release Pieces just as the addiction-memoir trend was cresting, and can clearly see that while there’s still a hunger for YA science fiction, the dystopia thing may have been played out, so why not resurrect it in space? All one can hope is that Christopher Lambert will somehow be involved once it inevitably hits the screen, since after all, there can be only one.
‘The Jewish Bride’ by Rembrandt (1667)
Legend has it that after Vincent Van Gogh saw Rembrandt’s painting The Jewish Bride in Amsterdam—where it still hangs today in the renovated Rijksmuseum—he said this:
I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food.
The math there might be a little on the extreme side (Van Gogh wasn’t one for half-measures, after all), but still, who wouldn’t say something like that about some work of art? The novel that you read at twelve years old which opened your eyes to the world, the painting that made you think “So that’s why people come to museums,” the song that you cry upon hearing whether it’s the first or the hundredth time? How much would you sacrifice to be allowed more time with your favorite book?
James Baldwin didn’t start out as a writer; but then, none of us do. Before he put pen to paper, he had a different calling: preacher.
In this interview from The Paris Review, he explains the difference:
When you are standing in the pulpit, you must sound as though you know what you’re talking about. When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.
It’s all communication, one way or the other.