Screening Room: ‘Kong: Skull Island’

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It’s been a few years since King Kong was smashing up the planet. Fortunately, the makers of Kong: Skull Island have remedied this problem with a half-gonzo reworking of the old giant apt smash-’em-up material set in the waning days of the Vietnam War.

Kong: Skull Island is opening wide this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

This is a movie so eager to show off its skyscraper-sized primate that it trots him out before we’ve even gotten to the credit sequence. In this iteration’s 1944-set opener, two downed fighter pilots (American and Japanese) parachute onto a tropical island beach and set about trying to kill each other before being interrupted by Kong’s glowering eyes…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘Iraq + 100’

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iraqplusahundred-coverWhen it comes to science fiction from the Arabic world, there isn’t much to speak of. The new collection, Iraq + 100, in which authors were asked to set their stories in an Iraq 100 years in the future, is one of the few additions to that limited canon.

Iraq + 100 is on sale now. My review is at The Millions:

Unlike almost every other book you will find out there about Iraq right now, the ambitious new short story collection Iraq + 100 has little to say directly about all the nation’s recent wars. This is somewhat remarkable. As noted in the introduction by the book’s editor, author Hassan Blasim (The Iraqi Christ), “Iraq has not tasted peace, freedom or stability since the first British invasion of the country in 1914.” Still, any opportunity for Iraqi writers to get together and write about something besides the wars, even if that trauma shadows each word in this book to some degree, must be seen as a kind of victory…

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Forget to Read

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literarywonderlandsBrilliant, longtime critic Laura Miller was interviewed recently by Poets & Writers. One of their first questions was about a statement she’d made about preferring reading to writing.

Her response, in part:

We live in a time when everyone wants to write and seemingly no one “has time” to read. Everyone wants to speak and increasingly few people want to listen. People sometimes scoff when I make this observation and claim that aspiring writers read more than anyone else, but that is not my experience. I’m constantly meeting people who, when they learn what I do, always want to talk about the book they plan to write despite the fact that they seem to find no books worth reading. We fetishize the idea of being a writer in a variety of ways, most of them narcissistic. So when I meet a big reader who professes no desire to write, I think of them as a beautiful, almost mythical creature, like a unicorn, to be celebrated.

So while writers of course need (always) to get back to work (speaking of which, why are you wasting time on this?), it’s also helpful that they remember something. Save time to read, because if you don’t, you could well forget the joys of reading and thusly the reasons why anybody would want to pick up and devour what you yourself are spending so much time to create.

In other words: Write for the reader inside you.

Weekend Reading: March 3, 2017

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Writer’s Desk: Go Shopping?

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So there are lots of different kinds of writing programs out there. Depending on your location and availability, most are worth applying to because we could all stand to get paid to hang out somewhere and write on our own for a little while.

But how about shopping? As part of its twenty-fifth birthday, that great temple of consumerism, Legos, and fried walleye, the Mall of freaking America, is now sponsoring its very own Writer-in-Residence program.

According to the Mall folks:

The Writer-in-Residence Contest will give a special scribe the chance to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words. The contest winner will stay in an attached hotel for four nights, receive a $400 gift card to buy food and drinks and collect a generous honorarium for the sweat and tears they’ll put into their prose.

“Deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere”? Hotel? Gift card for the food court? “Generous honorarium”? Sounds like a no-brainer. Let’s just say that the impressions garnered from people-watching, whether it be the packs of teenagers roaming the amusement park or the busloads of foreigners wandering dazedly about, are likely worth their weight in gold. Or cheese curds.

Applications are due March 10th.

Reader’s Corner: Vote Now

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oscar-waoInstead of just announcing what the new all-city book club selection is going to be, New York took it to the people with OneBookNY. They chose five possible books and are asking people to vote on what they think everyone should read.

The five books are:

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Couple interesting choices here. Coates’s book is nonfiction, departing from the usual novelistic mold, while Beatty’s (amazing) novel is set quite definitively in Los Angeles. Seems like either Diaz or Smith’s (also amazing) novels are the right choice here, but who’s to say?

Voting closes February 28.

Weekend Reading: February 24, 2017

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Quote of the Day: Book Burning

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fantasticbeasts1When the verbose and gloriously opinionated J.K. Rowling had the temerity a few weeks back to tweet her thoughts on President Tiny Hands’ travel ban, the pushback was about the same as what happens whenever an athlete ventures into the realm of politics.

The conservative troll brigades swarmed and told Rowling the usual things: Stick to writing, woman, and stop saying what you think about anything. (Nevermind that her Harry Potter books are all about tolerance and the acceptance of minorities.)

Things hit a particularly ugly pitch when one twit tweeted that they would “burn your books and movies.”

Rowling’s response was one for the ages:

Well, the fumes from the DVDs might be toxic and I’ve still got your money, so by all means borrow my lighter.

Writer’s Desk: Be Ruthless

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williamfaulkner1When William Faulkner was interviewed by The Paris Review in 1956, he was asked whether writers need to be “completely ruthless.”

The sage of the South replied in the affirmative, with vigor:

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.

He may not be right about the literary importance of “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but the point is, nevertheless, an uncomfortable truth.

Weekend Reading: February 17, 2017

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