Screening Room: ‘Best of Enemies’

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)
William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)
In 1968, the third-place network ABC wasn’t sure how to make a splash with its presidential convention coverage. Since they didn’t have much money, they went for a gimmick. Over the course of ten nights, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley would debate the issues of the conventions. Or just throw insults at each other.

Best of Enemies is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Best of Enemies is a fascinating film about brilliant people behaving stupidly. It would be reassuring in a way to think that in the distant past, there was a time when American intellectuals could duke it out on the public stage before a mass audience held rapt by the sight and sound of ideas being wrestled into coherent form. We know such things don’t happen anymore. How many Americans can even name two intellectuals to have such a debate?…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: July 31, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)
British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

Writer’s Desk: Getting Boys to Read

boyreading-LOC

It’s one of those not-so-secret secrets in education and the publishing world that when it comes to making books for kids, it is much much easier to do so for girls. Why? Compared to their feminine counterparts, boys just don’t read, and when they do, their reading comprehension lags. According to the Brookings Institute:

Reading scores for girls exceed those for boys on eight recent assessments of U.S. reading achievement.  The gender gap is larger for middle and high school students than for students in elementary school.

What to do? Since it’s education, there is advice aplenty. But perhaps the best idea proposed so far has come from Nick Hornby (High FidelityAbout a Boy):

I have boys, and boys are particularly resistant to reading books. I had some success recently with Sherman Alexie’s great young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian – I told my son it was highly inappropriate for him, and one of the most banned books in America. That got his attention, and he raced through it.

Now, take that advice out of its parental and educational context and think about how you would apply it to your writing. Channel your rebellious inner middle-school kid who doesn’t want to be told what book they can read.

Weekend Reading: July 24, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)
British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

Reader’s Corner: ‘Go Set a Watchman’

Go Set a Watchman-reviewSince there is apparently no classic work of literature or cinema that can’t be sequelized or reimagined, over a half-century after Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize and the hearts of millions, now comes Go Set a Watchman, a sequel of sorts that almost nobody knew existed until very recently.

Go Set a Watchman is on sale now everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

In Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Jean Louise Finch, no longer going by her tomboy nickname “Scout,” takes the train from New York to her hometown of Maycomb. She’s twenty-six and except for an affinity for coffee, not much different from the effervescent tomboy we first met in To Kill a Mockingbird, a book that stands in even grander relief against this unfinished-feeling first draft now pressed into unnecessary service as a semi-sequel…

You can read the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman here.

Writer’s Desk: Vonnegut’s Rules

You might think of Kurt Vonnegut, he of the dimension-shifting narrative and the fourth-wall-breaking narrators, as one of those writers who just threw everything onto the page to see what worked.

Kurt Vonnegut, 1972 (WNET)
Kurt Vonnegut, 1972 (WNET)

But the last century’s greatest sci-fi humorist next to Philip K. Dick had his own rules for the art of writing. He laid them out in the introduction tho his 1999 odds-and-ends volume Bagombo Snuff-Box:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

  4. Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.

  5. Start as close to the end as possible.

  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

If you assiduously follow even two of these rules throughout your piece; you’re set.

(h/t: boing boing)

Weekend Reading: July 17, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)
British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)