Weekend Reading: June 30, 2017

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Monty Python FAQ’

Have you any inkling what this T-shirt refers to?

Did you ever hop around on one foot while shouting, “’tis but a flesh wound!”?

Can you sing “The Philosopher’s Song” without referring to notes?

Was there a point during the United Kingdom’s recent snap election where you wondered whether there should have been a candidate from the Very Silly Party?

If you answered “yes” or asked “what’s all this, then?!” then it’s about 583% likely that Monty Python FAQ is the book for you!

Scribbled down in crayon by yours truly and his boon companions Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey, and then lovingly transcribed into proper book form by the dedicated editors at Applause Books, Monty Python FAQ is just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Python boys. That includes:

  • Words! Pictures! Lots of ’em.
  • An exegesis of every single Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode.
  • More than one could ever want or need to know about fish-slapping.
  • The deep, dark secret behind the one American Python, who hailed from the mystical, faraway land of … Minnesota.
  • Exploding penguins, dead budgies, Grannies from Hell … you get the picture.

It’s on sale now. Here. And hereAnd here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

And now … this:

Reader’s Corner: ‘Talking Pictures’

The new book, Talking Pictures, from Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, is in stores now and it’s a fantastic read.

My review is at PopMatters:

… even though the water-cooler factor of all this frantic locking of eyeballs to screens is at an all-time high, nobody is really talking about it much beyond “wasn’t that funny?” or “did you see that coming?” It’s almost as though people just don’t have the time or tools for talking about what they’re watching. That’s one of many factors that makes Ann Hornaday’s Talking Pictures such a vital book for this moment.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Talk About It

Sometimes the best thing to do is just be quiet. That’s true whether you’re a president under investigation or a writer who is trying to get their book done.

In an essay published at The Millions, Nick Ripatrazone advises the following:

…If you talk about your book, it stops belonging to you, and starts belonging to the world. You’ll have to explain it to people you sit next to on the train, distant cousins at family reunions, or people at work. When the soul of your book hits the air, it will dissipate without its physical body.

Until then, hoard your manuscripts. Keep your secrets. Delete your tweets about your work in progress. Play coy in your bio notes. Be devoted to your book, and resist the urge to whisper about your relationship to others. Stay committed to that book, and one day—when the time is right—you can tell the world.

Weekend Reading: June 23, 2017

Screening Room: AFI DOCS Film Festival

Last Wednesday through Sunday, Washington, D.C. hosted the AFI DOCS Film Festival, one of the country’s top showcases for nonfiction movies. Many of the documentaries screening there will be opening throughout the country in the coming weeks and months, with at least a couple likely Oscar nominees among the batch. A few of the highlights:

  • Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (Brian Knappenberger) — A taut and alarming look at how the entrenched interests of certain wealthy millionaires (Peter Thiel, Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump) could be threatening the future of the free press in America. Premiering on Netflix June 23.
  • For Akheem (Landon Van Soest, Jeremy S. Levine) — An emotional fly-on-the-wall study of a critical point in the life of Daje Shelton, an at-risk teenager trying to survive all the pitfalls of her North St. Louis neighborhood.
  • The Force (Peter Nicks) — A deep dive into the inner workings of the Oakland Police Department as it contends with chaotic leadership, corruption, and public fury over fatal shootings. From the director of the amazing Oscar-nominated The Waiting Room. Hits theaters in September.
  • A Suitable Girl (Smriti Mundhra, Sarita Khurana) — A charming audience-pleaser about three young Indian women trying to find an appropriate husband as customs and expectations around arranged marriages shift in the rapidly modernizing society.

I covered as many of the offerings as possible for Film Journal International, you can see my reviews here and here.

Writer’s Desk: It’s Not Hard

Writing isn’t easy. All that time alone, the self-doubt, the back aches, the certainty that you could have nailed that one paragraph if you had just five more hours.

But on the other hand, it’s not that hard. You look at the page, put your hands on the keys, and start making stuff up. Eventually you stop.

Ethan Canin, whose cool and chiseled story collections like The Palace Thief don’t exactly feel off the cuff, cuts to the thick of it in this interview from The Atlantic where he’s talking about Saul Bellow:

In a way, plot is very simple: You have someone do something wrong. You don’t plan out a plot. You have somebody do something wrong, and that engenders other bad behavior. Behavior—especially bad behavior—is what forces character to emerge.

So: Think of a place. Put a character. Make them do something stupid. Watch them try to get out of it. There’s your story.