Bookseller’s Corner: Lonesome Pine Used Books


Care to run a bookstore for a couple months? That’s the question being asked right now by Wendy Welch and Jack Beck, co-owners of Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books, located in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Welch has written a book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book, and the two of them are going to be away on a promotional tour.

Welch told Fresh Eyes Now:

It’s ironic that it’s a book about independent bookstores that’s got me in this position, but I cannot close our community bookstore to gallivant off and have fun with other bookstores…. Our shop is in a small rural community of 5,400 and it doesn’t do enough trade to hire someone in at a living wage. Plus we have two dogs and three cats on staff. So what we’re offering is complete room and board for a person or couple (from laundry soap to the occasional pizza delivery) in return for him/her/them watching the shop for October and November, when most of the ‘road trip’ activities for the book take place.

Think of it: Worse employment offers are made every minute of every day, and they never involve dogs, cats, or books, much all three together. (h/t Jacket Copy)

Reader’s Corner: David Foster Wallace

When David Foster Wallace took his life in 2008, among other painful echoes he left behind a gaping void in the American literary landscape. He was arguably the brightest star in that roughly defined gaggle of writers like Jonathan Franzen, William T. Vollmann, and Jeffrey Eugenides who broke through in the 1990s with styles that were entirely different and yet felt of a piece with all their emotional chaos and stylistic verve. (Check out Evan Hughes’s fantastic piece on that group here.)

For many readers, of that group, Wallace was the guy who people would still be reading in a hundred years. As one of Wallace’s editors said afterwards about the devastation so many people felt, “A lot of people are really sad for all the books we’re not going to get to read.” That’s not an entirely selfish thought, it’s more of a mourning for the beauty and intelligence that had gone out of the world with that shocking act.

D.T. Max’s biography on Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, is coming out later this year. There’s an excerpt from the book over at The Daily Beast, which includes this vivid scene about Wallace’s courtship of the memoirist Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club), when he was wracked by writer’s block and indecision, and was just coming out of rehab:

Wallace did not hear subtle variations in no; he knew only one way to seduce: overwhelm. He would show up at Karr’s family home to shovel her driveway after a snowfall, or come unannounced to her recovery meetings. Karr called the head of the halfway house and asked her to let Wallace know his attentions were not welcome. Wallace besieged her with notes anyway…. One day, she remembers, he arrived at a pool party she was at with her family with bandages on his left shoulder. She thought maybe he had been cutting himself and wouldn’t show her what was underneath—a tattoo with her name and a heart. He clearly felt he had made a commitment there was no retreating from. The details of the relationship were not clear to others though: Wallace told friends they were involved; Karr says no. She too steered Wallace to a new course in his fiction. “His interest in cleverness was preventing him from saying things,” she remembers. She told him not to be such a show-off, to write more from the heart. One time when he told her that he put certain scenes into his fiction because they were “cool,” she responded: “That’s what my f–king five year old says about Spiderman.”

Later, Wallace would write Infinite Jest and many other novels and shorter pieces in which he showed off as much as possible, but still managed to write from the heart.

Dept. of Endgames

Good enough that Colson Whitehead is covering the Olympics (somewhat post-facto) for Grantland. (His conversations with the W.G. Sebald app beat most of what NBC had to say.)

But even better that once his first piece actually takes him to London itself, Whitehead’s thoughts immediately turn towards the apocalypse:

…I started scoring events in terms of what they’d offer in a human-annihilation-type scenario. Offensewise, archery skills seemed like an obvious asset at first. But the archers’ high-tech bows wouldn’t survive a day of jumping off roofs, tromping through sewers, and escaping cannibal hordes. The bows were items of cruel but fragile beauty, with their carbon limbs and polyethylene strings, their V-bar extenders and side-rod stabilizer doohickeys. Great for the marksman’s art, but no good in a volume-kill scenario. You’d be better off with a simple machete. The qualifying heats made it clear that swimming is a good life skill or whatever, but only marathon-distance swimming was going to help you make it to the island after a squabble over rations or sex resulted in your tiny escape vessel overturning. Triathlon, I decided, with its endurance super-combo of swimming, biking, and running, solved multiple problem areas. I made a note to see it in person.

Whitehead published his own take on the zombie apocalypse last year, Zone One. Not so much archery in it, sadly enough—he left that to Suzanne Collins.

New in Theaters: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’

With its can-you-believe-this? story, slacker protagonists, and rueful gravitas, Sleepwalk With Me could easily have been This American Life: The Movie. That it’s not, even though writer, star, and co-director Mike Birbiglia is a longtime favored TAL performer, is a testament to his multifaceted appeal. The movie doesn’t quite translate that appeal, just as it doesn’t translate the original bit’s conversational stage format to a narrative…

Sleepwalk with Me is playing now in (very) limited release; it should be expanding much wider through the fall. My review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

Dept. of Literary Commerce

When novelist/screenwriter/storeowner Larry McMurtry announced The Last Book Sale, he didn’t really know how many people would trek down to his retail emporium in Archer City, Texas to buy up some of the 300,000+ titles that were on offer. In the end, he reported in the New York Review of Books, “everything sold but the fiction … I was irritated to discover that I still had 30,000 novels to sell.”

The auction went well, overall, particularly in regards to this title:

The star item on the first day was typescript of some twenty-nine story-ettes of an erotic nature. These had been commissioned in the 40s by the oilman in Ardmore, Oklahoma; among the writers who wrote these trifles were Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell and others. The late G. Legman knew the oil man’s name but never revealed it. I have owned this curiosity for more than twenty years; it went to Between the Covers for $2,750.

New in Theaters: ‘2016: Obama’s America’

Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary makes the case that Barack Obama is a man obsessed with fulfilling the “dream” of his dead father, a staunch anti-colonialist, so much so that he is actively working to degrade America as a world power. While this goal has been camouflaged thus far, the film contends, were Obama to be reelected, his true radicalism would be unleashed. To underline this threat, near its end, the film features a picture of Founding Father Ben Franklin, set aflame…

2016: Obama’s America is playing now in limited release, but is due to expand wider in the coming weeks after a stronger-than-expected opening run. My full review is at PopMatters.

You can see the trailer here:

Film Flashback: ‘True Romance’

One of the late Tony Scott’s films that broke free of his glossy Top Gun / Beverly Hills Cop 2 template was 1993’s True Romance. Scripted by Quentin Tarantino and his old running buddy Roger Avary, it featured Clarence (Christian Slater), an Elvis-worshipping Tarantino-esque comic-book geek who goes on the run with the proverbial golden-hearted hooker Alabama (Patricia Arquette) after killing her pimp (Gary Oldman). Everything ends up in a feather-strewn and John Woo-esque shootout with mobsters, movie producers, and the FBI. With its glossy cinematography and crowded cast of stars who wanted in on the next big thing, this was a turning point for Scott and Tarantino in specific, and Hollywood in general…

My article “What ‘True Romance’ Did for Tony Scott and Hollywood” is up at PopMatters.

The original trailer is here:

Quote(s) of the Day: Erroll Flynn

Besides acting in too many great films to mention—only one of which, 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, would be enough for any actor to achieve immortality—the ever-enthusiastic Erroll Flynn was also an author of sorts.

Just a few months after his death in 1959, Flynn’s “autobiography” My Wicked, Wicked Ways was published, instantly scandalizing Hollywood for its brazen cynicism and warts-and-all attitude. Of course, it’s never been out of print since. 

Crafted mostly by Earl Conrad and a team of stenographers and allegedly cribbed in parts from other sources (including even Thoreau’s Walden), the book is full of pithy declamations about the good life lived hard. Among them:

I have been in rebellion against God and Government ever since I can remember … But I had my vodka—and had faith in that. It came in cases. I got up in the morning and reached. I hawked, coughed around a while, took another drink, started the day.

And also this:

Living I have done, enormously, like a gourmand eating the world, and I don’t suppose it is egotism, but only fact, to suggest that few others alive in the present century have taken into their maw more of the world than have I.

Well, it works for some.

DVD Tuesday: ‘A Separation’

The metaphor doesn’t get any clearer than this. As battling spouses shout at an invisible judge sitting where the camera is, the message is undeniable: they’re not just fighting over a relationship, but over a country, one that has both abandoned and entrapped them. The wife doesn’t want to stay with her husband, but it’s more their circumstances that she’s fighting to escape from with their daughter. Not that she, or Ashgar Farhadi’s film, comes out and says this. Iranian writer-director Farhadi’s subtle but explosive domestic crime story, dancing nimbly around censorship rules, makes a ringing statement as clear as the injustice witnessed in each of the main characters’ eyes…

A Separation comes out today on DVD; it was one of the most potent, unforgettable films to hit screens in 2011—foreign or domestic. My full review is at AMC Movie Database.

You can see the trailer here:

Trailer Park: ‘Red Dawn’

Now, there were many things to dislike about the 1984 Red Dawn, that hopped-up NRA-ad of a John Milius Cold War teen empowerment fantasy. The generally atrocious sub-Brat Pack acting (looking at you, C. Thomas Howell). The idea that Soviet armored divisions could pour into the country across the Bering Strait to hook up with Nicaraguan paratroopers who took the Rocky Mountains(!). Thinking that entire units of Spetsnaz could be taken out with ease by some high school kids with AK-47s and Wolverine letter jackets.

Of course, there were also many things to love about that movie. The opening scene with paratroopers drifting down  outside a classroom’s windows. Harry Dean Stanton bellowing, “Avenge me!” from behind the prison camp wire. That strangely touching subplot about the war-weary Cuban colonel (played with some gravitas by Super Fly himself, Ron O’Neal). Thinking that entire units of Spetsnaz could be taken out with ease by some high school kids with AK-47s and Wolverine letter jackets.

But now, since Hollywood is apparently bereft of all new ideas and must recycle, recycle, recycle, they’ve decided to take a film best left in the dustbin of beloved adolescent classics and dust it off in an entirely irrelevant way for a new generation. To make things even more preposterous, in a time when the United States isn’t locked in pseudo-conflict with a country that has a massive conventional army, in the remake the Commie invaders hail from … North Korea.

Max Fischer at The Atlantic points out the many, many, many absurdities of this premise, going well beyond North Korea’s staggering “poverty and military weakness,” here.

Trailer for the apparently entirely humorless remake is below, showing only that Chris Hemsworth is no Patrick Swayze:

Trailer for the original is here:

New in Theaters: ‘The Anderson Monarchs’

In the Philadelphia neighborhood where the Anderson Monarchs girls’ soccer team plays, the bright wall murals exhorting a positive outlook (“Dare to Dream”) exist in stark relief to the limited opportunities available to those who grow up there. The practice field itself is a patchy thing, something of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree compared to the verdant greens where they play games against teams from wealthier suburban neighborhoods. During one practice, police cars and ambulances race past, lights flashing; the camera zooms in but the girls, likely used to it all, pay almost no heed. But Eugene Martin’s film about the Monarchs isn’t much interested in delivering another tale of urban woe, preferring instead to accentuate the positive…

The Anderson Monarchs is playing now as part of the Docuweeks festival in New York, but should expand to more cities later. My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘Chicken with Plums’


Anybody seeking a well-rounded love story featuring emotionally secure individuals should stay far, far away from Chicken with Plums. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic novel focuses on Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric), a violinist living in late 1950s Iran. He plays like an angel, but suffers from an overwhelming moodiness. In the film’s first few scenes, he buys a violin and returns it almost immediately, screaming at the shop owner that he’s been cheated. In fact, life has cheated him…

Chicken with Plums is playing now, and makes for a certain kind of fantastic date movie. My full review is at PopMatters.

The trailer is here:


New in Theaters: ‘Cosmopolis’

Adapted by David Cronenberg from Don DeLillo’s prescient 2003 novel, Cosmopolis is set in a fantastical New York of the present or near-future, a nebulous universe that feels like a recent William Gibson novel—this might be the future, but it’s barely five minutes hence. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old wizard of some species of speculative, quantitative finance who has made his billions and now can’t seem to wait to set his entire universe on fire. He drifts through the city in a white limo that looks outside like all the others, but inside is a fully wired and soundproof command center that keeps him wired to his empire while sitting in traffic on the way to get a haircut…

The deadpan, crazed Cosmpolis opens tomorrow in limited release; seek it out when it comes to your town, there’s nothing else like it.

My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘The Snowtown Murders’

For a film about John Bunting, one of the most infamous serial killers in Australia’s history, The Snowtown Murders comes at its subject stealthily and almost wholly without sensationalism. Creating a slow-burning portrait of its depressed South Australian suburban milieu and the layers upon layers of dysfunction found therein, Justin Kurzel’s assured feature debut approaches its themes with care. Even when the story shifts more towards Bunting’s murderous exploits, the tone remains even. It’s as though what’s happening is no surprise at all, just the natural outgrowth of this toxic brew of poverty, rage and sickening abuse…

The Snowtown Murders gets released on DVD today. My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here: