Writer’s Desk: Find a Group

In his great literary guide and memoir On Writing—read it now, if you haven’t already—Stephen King unpacked many secrets of the scrivening trade. Among the more salient was this:

Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference.

Finding a writers’ group helps. So does suborning your friends and family to read what you’re working on. Feedback is never a waste, even if you end up ignoring it completely.

Reader’s Corner: Home Decor for People Who Don’t Read

People put up many pointless pictures on the self-reflecting pool of impending cultural demise known as Instagram. Food they ordered for its look instead of taste. Their feet in front of some gorgeous place they want you to know they’ve visited. Here’s a new one:

The social media chattering classes have spent the past few days rolling their eyes at #backwardsbooks, an Instagram-perfect interior design trend that takes the idea that books are pretty to look at and flips it 180 degrees. See, their unadorned pages, actually, can be pleasingly neutral and minimalistic when shelved in a row.

Good luck actually finding the book you want to read, of course.

Screening Room: ‘Small Town Crime’

The scrappy and surprisingly funny high-plains noir Small Town Crime is opening this week. Despite the strong cast (John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Anderson) it will probably disappear from theaters fast so make sure to check it out.

My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer.

Screening Room: ‘The Final Year’

The Final Year, which tracks Barack Obama’s foreign policy team in his presidency’s pell-mell final year as the shadow of the Trump victory looms darkly, is opening in wider release this week.

My review is at Film Journal International:

…[Director Greg Barker] highlights three key players: chief speechwriter Ben Rhodes, United Nations ambassador Samantha Powers and Secretary of State John Kerry. Although Obama offers a few to-the-camera remarks, for the most part he remains in the background as the leader whose policies these three power players need to mesh with their own beliefs and wrestle into some coherent and actionable policy. Powers and Kerry perform their jobs with such a sense of can-do urgency that even when the frequently hubristic Rhodes says that they “felt like a pickup team…to change the world,” one’s eyes don’t even necessarily roll…

Here’s the trailer:


Screening Room: ‘What Lies Upstream’

The bracing new documentary What Lies Upstream is a scarifying investigation that starts with a chemical leak into a West Virginia river and expands into an indictment of a nationwide regulatory system riddled with lax oversight and dangerous levels of compromise.

What Lies Upstream is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer.

Nota Bene: Weird Tales from the Yiddish Press

Eddie Portnoy’s book Bad Rabbi: And Other Strange But True Stories from the Yiddish Press is chock-full of goodies printed in prewar Yiddish-language papers in New York and Warsaw. The New York Times review approvingly noted Portnoy’s collection of stories about “vengeful lovers, demented blackmailers and unscrupulous abortionists.”

Here’s a good one, per David Mikics:

Portnoy spends some time on the story of Martin (Blimp) Levy, a professional wrestler who in his heyday weighed more than 600 pounds. Levy, who started his career in 1937, was, according to his manager, “a freak with class.” He was flexible, even agile: Bad Rabbi contains a photo of him doing the splits. Levi was also a bona fide chick magnet. He was married at least three times, always to young, svelte women. (In one divorce case, Levy testified that his spouse physically abused him; the judge ruled in his favor.) In 1946 he married an 18-year-old fan. That same year, he was barred from wrestling in the United States because doctors feared he would drop dead in the ring. A few years later he was reduced to playing the fat man in a circus. Levy, who ended up weighing 900 pounds, died at age 56 in an Alabama motel…

Quote of the Day: Moderation vs. Justice

From Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice … Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.