Screening Room: ‘Capital in the 21st Century’

Six years ago, a 700–ish-page economics tome by a French academic with a Marxian bent became a surprise bestseller. Now, Capital in the 21st Century is a documentary.

My review is at PopMatters:

Justin Pemberton’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century takes the fundamental arguments of Piketty’s book and presents them in an engaging, visually brisk manner that has the gleaming appeal but somewhat narrow one-sidedness of a TED Talk. The author himself lays out his thesis: Modern capitalism has created a concentration of capital that is ultimately unsustainable. He references the “misery” of communist rule to show that despite his being well-versed in Marxist analysis, he is no doctrinaire Red demanding state control of industry. Rather, he is more interested in laying out a modern history of capital to show how pre-modern economic models, replete with tiny cliques of aristocrats distant from the teeming masses, are reestablishing themselves in our time…

Capital in the 21st Century is available through virtual cinemas starting May 1.

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Throw Most of It Away

There are times when your writing project takes forever. You head to the keyboard each day, knowing that you will emerge on the other side with naught but a few sentences, as fought-over as a few square yards of Flanders mud during an interminable battle in the First World War. But that can be worth it in the end.

There are other times when the fight means that you’re not going where you need to go. In that instance, consider the “inspired demolition job” Jenny Offill did on her novel Dept. of Speculation:

After spending years on a longer, more traditional novel that refused to come together, Offill stopped trying to force it; instead, she wrote out what she considered the best bits on index cards, then shuffled them around until she arrived at something she was happy with. The streamlined version, made up of elliptical yet propulsive fragments, many of them no more than a sentence long, tells the story of a marital crisis with the efficiency of a comic strip. Suggestive snippets of dialogue and description are juxtaposed with surreal factoids and literary quotes; Offill trusts the reader will know how to put these pieces together.

Giles Harvey, The New York Review of Books

Trust the reader. Trust yourself. Leave out everything you do not absolutely need and let the reader figure it out.

Reader’s Corner: Trading for Books

A Vancouver resident had too much sugar (the 10kg bag was all Costco had) and was interested in letting somebody else partake.

Meanwhile, a friend of Christopher Brayshaw, the owner of the Pulp Fiction bookstore, needed some sugar for baking.

Answer? They worked out a trade:

…two kilograms of sugar, for one brand new book that she’d been on the waitlist for.

Sometimes things work out for the best.

(h/t: Shelf Awareness)

Reader’s Corner: Sometimes You Need that New Louise Erdrich Book

Novelist Ann Patchett wrote in The Guardian about what it’s like at the bookstore she co-operates in Nashville after closing the doors but trying to do their best keeping up with orders:

I understand now that we’re a part of our community as never before, and that our community is the world. When a friend of mine, stuck in his tiny New York apartment, told me he dreamed of being able to read the new Louise Erdrich book, I made that dream come true. I can solve nothing, I can save no one, but dammit, I can mail Patrick a copy of The Night Watchman.

Reader’s Corner: Keep City Lights Open

A lot of businesses are closing down during the shelter-in-place order. Among them is San Francisco’s storied City Lights Bookstore. Very simply put, it’s one of the finest book emporiums in the country, if not the world. It’s hard enough keeping a low-margin indie store open in the Bay Area these days, much less post-pandemic. They need help in order to get back in business once the state gives the OK.

A GoFundMe page has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Throw a few bucks in.

You can also buy books from them via Bookshop. Check out some of the offerings from their decades-old publishing line, particularly the Pocket Poets Series titles like Ginsberg’s Howl or O’Hara’s Lunch Poems.

Writer’s Desk: Snoopy’s Rules

In the 2002 collection, Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, a stellar line-up of scribes from Ray Bradbury to William F. Buckley, Jr. responded to a Peanuts strip featuring Snoopy writing. 

One of the contributors was Charles M. Schulz’s son Barnaby Conrad, who provided these six rules for writing:

1. Try to pick the most intriguing place in your piece to begin.
2. Try to create attention-grabbing images of a setting if that’s where you want to begin.
3. Raise the reader’s curiosity about what is happening or is going to happen in an action scene.
4. Describe a character so compellingly that we want to learn more about what happens to him or her.
5. Present a situation so vital to our protagonist that we must read on.
6. And most important, no matter what method you choose, start with something happening! (And not with ruminations. A character sitting in a cave or in jail or in a kitchen or in a car ruminating about the meaning of life and how he got to this point does not constitute something happening.)

It was a dark and stormy night…

(h/t: Maria Popova)

Writer’s Desk: Fast, Cheap, and Good

Jim Jarmusch once told me Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two. If it’s fast and cheap it wont be good. If it’s cheap and good it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good it wont be cheap. Fast, cheap and good… pick (2) words to live by.

-Tom Waits

Do with that what you will. But cheap and good sounds like a good combination for your average writer.