Readers’ Corner: Books of the Convention

During Chelsea Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention on Thursday night, she peppered her recollections of childhood in the Clinton family with a couple pointed references to books. In addition to the expected childhood classics (Goodnight, Moon) she singled out a certain novel by Madeline L’Engle:

Growing up, conversations around the dinner table always started with what I learned in school that day. I remember one week talking incessantly about a book that had captured my imagination, “A Wrinkle in Time.” Only after my parents had listened to me talk, would they then talk about what they were working on: education, health care consuming their days and keeping them up at night.

WrinkleInTimePBA1Spencer Kornhaber writes, this wasn’t just an invocation of a classic book beloved by many pre-adolescents, it was a clue as to the personalities of both Chelsea and Hillary:

The parallels between Meg Murry [the book’s protagonist] and adolescent Chelsea Clinton are obvious from that quote alone, right down to the description of braces and unruly hair … Meg is an introverted, brainy heroine rather than a spunky, hotheaded one, a distinction that likely appeals to both Clinton women. And Meg, like Chelsea, is the daughter of two very high-powered parents … There are extra-textual comparisons to be made, too: L’Engle once said that the novel was originally rejected by dozens of publishers, partly for the reason that it “had a female protagonist in a science-fiction book, and that wasn’t done”—a gender barrier of a different sort than the one broken last night…

Clinton’s reference to L’Engle’s novel was greeted by a distinct cheer from a certain segment of the audience. You can imagine for yourself whether a similar literary call-out at the previous week’s convention would have elicited anything but silence.

Quote of the Convention: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Hillary Clinton (State Department) with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA) in 2012
Hillary Clinton (State Department) with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA) in 2012

This is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar introducing himself at the Democratic convention last night:

Hello, everyone. I’m Michael Jordan, and I’m here with Hillary. I said that because I know that Donald Trump couldn’t tell the difference.

Side note: Abdul-Jabbar has done some writing since he left the NBA. Among the books to his name is Mycroft Holmes, a Sherlock Holmes novel he co-wrote with Anna Waterhouse. Abdul-Jabbar has been a Sherlock fan for decades.

Weekend Reading: July 29, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Bad Moms’

The summer’s latest rowdy-femme comedy hits screens tonight, so get ready.

My review of Bad Moms is at Film Journal International:

Five years after Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher found easy jokes in the then-taboo sight of middle-school teacher Cameron Diaz showing up to work hung over and mocking her students, the pocket genre of films and TV shows about women in positions of authority shirking their responsibilities (“Bad Judge,” anyone?) seems to have hit a peak. In Bad Moms, writing and directing team Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover, Four Christmases) spin the recent trend of just-relax books and blogs extolling “moms who drink” and the backlash against overscheduled childhoods into a rebellious party epic. It’s not exactly for the ages, but it’s not exactly The Hangover Part II, either…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Zero Days’

zero days2

With all the news the last few days about not just the thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee but the possibility that the hack was directed by a foreign power (and a certain presidential candidate’s request that that power do yet more hacking), the as-yet mostly theoretical idea of cyberwar has suddenly hit the mainstream.

zero days-posterIn a rare convergence, Alex Gibney’s prescient documentary Zero Days hit theaters just a couple weeks ago. My article, “DNC Hack Could Make Zero Days the Year’s Most Prescient Film,” is at Eyes Wide Open:

Zero Days does not directly relate to the kind of offensive cyber operation that is alleged to have happened with the DNC. However, in his deep-undercover, whistleblower-thick narrative, Gibney does paint a picture of the types of motives and capabilities that directly relate to what is potentially happening now. It serves as a kind of road map for the new geopolitical battleground that many of us might have just gotten a glimpse of in this sweltering summer of unease…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Cafe Society’


Jesse Eisenberg goes to 1930s Hollywood in Woody Allen’s latest time machine romantic comedy. All the outfits are fantastic and the jazz (of course) is hot.

cafe-society-Theatrical Poster_rgbCafe Society is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Café Society is nearly done before it gets off a halfway decent joke. Not that it’s been trying too hard before then to be funny, or anything much in particular besides reheat some old Allen material and stir it around before calling it a day. You get the sense that he was already plotting out his next film while still dashing off dialogue for this one…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Corner: Finding Beauty

Cunningham_facades_coverBill Cunningham, the legendarily sharp-eyed and self-effacing fashion photographer for Details and later the New York Times, died a couple weeks ago at the age of 87. His was an extraordinary life and worth checking up on (particularly this fantastic documentary), even if fashion and photography aren’t your thing.

He had a lot of things to say about art, creativity, and finding your way in the world as somebody who cares passionately about those things and wants to pursue them with dignity.

Take, for instance, this:

It is as true today as it ever was. He who seeks beauty shall find it.

Think of that the next time you’re writing, regardless of whether you’re trying to create something beautiful, raw, ugly, or simply honest. Go looking for what you want to say and you will figure out how to say it.

Weekend Reading: July 22, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Ghostbusters’


So, yes, there’s a new Ghostbusters movie. You may have heard about it.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

It’s bad enough when a classic film is sullied by a subpar remake. (Hint: anybody excited about the Antoine Fuqua The Magnificent Seven, be prepared for disappointment; at least the original, itself a Seven Samurai riff, had the good sense to relocate from Japan to Mexico and cut its own trail.) All those tens of millions of dollars spent, just to tarnish a good and enjoyable memory. Even more wasteful, though, is the hurling of good money and energy at revamping of a film that was, well, no classic. Like Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Hemingway and the One True Thing

Ernest Hemingway (photo by Lloyd Arnold, 1939)
Ernest Hemingway (photo by Lloyd Arnold, 1939)
Much of a writer’s life is taken up with various anxieties: Where’s the plot going? That paragraph seems a little flat, should I give it another shot? Is the check in the mail?

That means, then, that a lot of what constitutes writing is working through those anxieties, lassoing them to your work as needed.

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway described what he did when dead-ended on a story:

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.

Once you have that one true thing, you also have your foundation.

Build from that.

(h/t Open Culture)

Weekend Reading: July 15, 2016


TV Room: ‘The Night Of’

Riz Ahmed in ‘The Night Of’ (HBO)

night_of-posterA long-in-development, eight-episode miniseries, The Night Of has the heft and snap of that rare crime novel which seems to have been written by somebody who has actually talked to a few cops and crooks in their time. That’s because it’s written by Richard Price, whose gritty, funny novels from The Wanderers to The Whites provide a kind of alternate history of New York.

What’s it about? In short, a good kid from Queens (Riz Ahmed) goes out when he shouldn’t, hangs out with a girl who fairly screams bad news, and ends up in a police station. For murder. John Turturro plays his low-end lawyer with a heart of gold; in a role that James Gandolfini originated not long before his death.

The Night Of is on HBO Sunday nights; check it out. My review is at PopMatters:

The world of cops, judges, and lawyers is one that sorts the people who come within its grasp. That’s at least the case in crime fiction like HBO’s darkly sparkling new noir miniseries The Night Of. It’s generally a binary thing, without much shading…

Here’s the trailer: