Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The fiction of nonfiction

The cliché used to be that history was written by the winners. Then, Max Lerner revised it, saying “History is written by the survivors.”

Now, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson has proven history can be revised by the progeny.

Seán Hemingway has re-edited his grandfather’s memoir “A Moveable Feast,” casting Papa as equally culpable in his first divorce.

First, some back story is in order. Hemingway divorced four times. “Feast” included the story of how Hemingway left his first wife, Hadley Richardson, for her friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.

“Feast”—which was cobbled together posthumously by Hemingway’s fourth wife using unpublished scraps—placed the onus for the divorce primarily on Pfeiffer. Hemingway is portrayed as the prey, Pfeiffer as predator.

Seán Hemingway is Pfeiffer and Hemingway’s grandson. He has included other unpublished Hemingway passages in a new edition of the memoir. If the new passages do not exonerate Pfeiffer, they make Hemingway equally guilty.

I’m not here to hash out Papa’s romantic history. My question is this: How valid is this sort of revisionist history?

I’d argue that it’s fair for three reasons.

One, “A Moveable Feast” was never a Hemingway-sanctioned manuscript. He made it clear that it was an unfinished piece shortly before it died. So it can’t be treated as an accurate history, or even as an accurate portrayal of how Hemingway wanted to be remembered.

Instead, it can only be treated as how Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, wanted him to be remembered.

Similarly, this new edition is how Seán Hemingway wants Hemingway (and his grandmother) to be portrayed.

Two, both are still using Hemingway’s words. It’s not like Mary or Seán Hemingway wrote unauthorized biographies. Even if Hemingway’s stories are not edited as he would have liked, at least they are his stories.

While Hemingway’s mind could change (as proven by his several divorces), at least the words Seán used were true to his grandfather when he wrote them.

Finally, any nonfiction that involves an opinion or supposition is a fallacy. Margaret Atwood wrote:

It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many.

We cannot write things exactly as they were. (This is something I struggle with everyday as a newspaper writer.) Even the most objective writer must still decide what details are worth including, what statements merit quoting.

You can try to be fair. You can try to be objective. You can try to be accurate. Ultimately, you must admit what you write is an account of the events, not the account of the events.

This doesn’t mean Mary, Seán or even Ernest Hemingway are liars. It just means most things in life are subjective. “A Moveable Feast” is no exception.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Not just phenomenal, macrophenomenal

I’ve previously mentioned my obsession with Free Darko, the basketball blog that is about so much more than basketball. It’s about style, individuality and, occasionally, the indulgence of tangents.

The primary authors of the blog also wrote a book, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. I finally got my hands on a copy last weekend; and it’s even better than the blog.

If you love basketball — not just the game, but the individual narratives encapsulated within — you will love The Macro-Mahna-Mahna Basketballmanac. The Free Darko ethos celebrates the individual. Consequently, there is no indepth discussion of team mechanics. Instead, it glories in the faults and successes of single players.

The book offers illustrated, well-researched and hysterical highlights about the stars of the sport. (Most of the big names are here. A few like Chauncy Billups and Steve Nash are missing. But this book is not intended to be exhaustive. Not every player deserves the depths of analysis the FD writers provide.)

My favorite chapter is on Phoenix guard Leandro Barbosa. The FD crew lauds his speedy scoring. (He scores about 3 seconds faster than the average NBA player.) Then, they extrapolate upon this theme by figuring how much quicker Barbosa could have accomplished certain historical activities. For example, Magellan could have circumnavigated the world in 2.4 years if he had a crew of Barbosas. The Hundred Years’ War would have lasted 97 years instead of 116 had the French been replaced by an army of Barbosas.

This sort of silly-seriousness runs through the book. Want to know the affect of sleep deprivation on Tracey McGrady’s game? They got it. Want to know what superstar’s grandma admonished their grandson’s tattoo by telling him, “Dwyane Wade wouldn’t have done that?” They got it.

My one gripe with this book is that it is written with the present firmly in mind. (And by “present” I mean 2008, when the book was published.) Consequently, The Macro & Cheese Basketballniac already feels outdated in its assessment of some players.

For example, the public’s perception of Ron Artest is now completely different since he forced a Game 7 against the Lakers with a Rockets team that didn’t include Yao Ming or T-Mac. He went from “defensive all-star/malignant tumor” to “man who darn near slayed Goliath.”

How differently do we perceive Rasheed Wallace, Billups or even Lebron James after a single year?

The good news is the FD guys are supposedly working on a new book; and, this time, I won’t be waiting six months to ready it.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

James Joyce at the speed of Twitter

I dislike Twitter and not for any original reasons.

Most people cannot communicate anything worthwhile in 140 characters; and almost no one can do it several times throughout the day.

Yet that is what Twitter is designed to do. It broadcasts our truncated (often inane) thoughts and millions of people follow it because... well, I guess you need something to do at your desk when you’re not working. (I write blogs and read McSweeney’s.)

Ian Blogost also doesn’t like Twitter for the obvious reasons:

For me, Twitter represents the worst trends in the new internet culture. It purports to allow people to “communicate” in new ways, a promise that mostly creates new obligation and infatuation to stay “up to date” and “connected.” In the world of Twitter, you (and me, and everyone) pay constant, tiny homage to a new gimmickry.

But instead of just complaining about it (like me,) he has decided to do something creative with it.

He and Ian McCarthy have found, if nothing else, a creative use for Twitter.

They re-enacted the tenth chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “Wandering Rocks,” using Twitter. They created pages for several of the book’s character and created a program that had them interact. They also timed it to coincide with Bloomsday, June 16, the day in which the activities of Ulysses are said to take place.

The Ians’ intent: (to) comment on Twitter as a social force and also attempt to use the service in a culturally interesting way.

The Ians’ Twitter idea is not wholly without precedent. Someone thought it would be clever to tweet Taming of the Shrew. Someone else has also reserved twitHamlet.

Other people have used Facebook to re-enact Pride and Prejudice.

While all of these ideas are clever, I don’t know if they add anything to Ulysses or Pride and Prejudice. I’m hoping that someone takes it upon him or herself to do an entirely original piece of art with Twitter or Facebook. (Of course, that person won’t be me. I don’t tweet and only time I use my Facebook page to glean info on the suspects about whom I write.)

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

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Monday, June 22, 2009

If you love your library ...

... please contact your state legislator and the governor!

Gov. Ted Strickland's proposed biennium budget would decrease funding to state libraries by $200 million -- which is in addition to money that has already been cut from libraries that have seen a decline in revenue. You can view the proposal here.

Libraries are a staple in any community, but especially so now that the country has been in a recession. Libraries already are doing more with less, as residents are turning more to the free services they offer. But if the proposal passes, services will be reduced and hours will be cut. Some libraries may even close. For more information about the proposal, see the Ohio Library Council Web site.

Contact your state legislator and the governor to let them know how you feel about the proposed biennium budget.

You can find your representative by entering your ZIP code at
www.house.state.oh.us/ and your senators at

Click here to contact Strickland directly with your thoughts and concerns. You may call his office at 614-466-3555 or fax at 614-466-9354. Or contact him through his Facebook page, where you can post comments on his wall.

You may also contact members of the conference committee, who will be helping make the decision on the budget. Though they do not represent the area, they will be part of a decision that affects the entire state and should listen to what residents of the state of Ohio think about the proposal.
Vernon Sykes, Akron area. Phone: 614- 466-3100. Fax: 614-719-6944. district44@ohr.state.oh.us
Jay Goyal, Mansfield area. Phone: 614-466-5802. Fax: 614-719-3973. district73@ohr.state.oh.us
Ron Amstutz, Wayne County area. Phone: 614-466-1474. Fax: 614-719-0003. district03@ohr.state.oh.us
Dale Miller, Cleveland area. Phone: 614-466-5123. SD23@maild.sen.state.oh.us
John Carey, Wellston area. Phone: 614-466-8156. SD17@senate.state.oh.us
Mark Wagoner. Phone: 614-466-8060. SD02@senate.state.oh.us

Here are some sample letters you can send:

"I am writing to urge you to advocate for the preservation of public library funding in Ohio. I understand that the governor is proposing a 50 percent cut to public library funding. This would be a devastating move in light of the economy’s effect on public access to information, technology and jobs. People need public libraries during an economic downturn more than ever, to stay informed, apply for jobs, and continue their education and acquisition of skills. Many Ohioans will need to retrain for new jobs and successfully transition to new careers, and if support for these activities is diminished, they will likely cost the state more for health care and public assistance. All Ohioans benefit when public libraries are funded adequately. Please help Ohioans help themselves by maintaining public library funding at last year’s levels."

"It has been brought to my attention that the state is considering reducing the amount of revenue it allots to the State Library Fund. Due to the decrease in overall revenue, the fund has already been hit with substantial cuts and I implore you not to vote for a further reduction. These reductions would effectively reduce the fund by nearly 50 percent from the levels of revenue in 2008. Many public libraries in Ohio operate solely on money from this fund and do not enjoy additional support from local sources. This proposed cut will disproportionately effect areas in Ohio who can least afford to lose this valuable resource. I realize that there are many difficult decisions you must make when trying to balance the state budget, but public libraries are needed more than ever in these times. I fear that these cuts will close many public libraries permanently and that would be a sad state of affairs indeed."

"I have just learned about the proposal from Gov. Strickland in regards to the massive cutting of library funding over the next two years. While I understand that we as a nation and state are facing difficult times, I believe that if you vote to accept this proposal, you will cause irreperable damage to many communities across the state of Ohio. The library to me is a gateway to education, business, personal awareness and improvement, and community. I would hate to see what many communities will look like across the state if this proposal is accepted."

Call, send e-mails.
Please make your opinions heard.
Save our libraries.

-- Cheryl Sadler


Friday, June 19, 2009

News-Herald Haiku

On Fridays, the blog
submits to the randomness —
Call it “the melange”

My coworkers have graciously submitted haiku for the blog. Fortunately, for both my readers, they are better writers than I.

Sandra Klepach
Wild cherry blossoms
Pastures, China, D.C., Suave
Rub them in my hair

John Bertosa (who you may recall as my nemesis)
Pennant race is on,
ball lands deep into the night --
There’s always next year

Michael Butz
I’m riding alone
On a bicycle for two
Hands off handlebars

Brandon Baker
MCing and DJing
Form the tenets of Hip-Hop
Beats, art, “Future Shock”

Tricia Ambrose
Economic mess
Houses, autos, banks, oh my
Will it ever end?

Jamie Ward (who has clearly been reading Nietzsche)
Man’s will to power
stolen by the lamb, self-worth
is gone, suffer more

One last awful haiku from Jason Lea
Rain drizzles on roof —
I want to splash in puddles
but I have to work

Two last links, then I release you to the weekend. First, the judge has temporarily barred the publication of “Coming Through the Rye” in the U.S.

Second, J.K. Rowling is being accused of plagiarism. This isn’t surprising. A person can only make so much money before someone sues.

—Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Willy the Wizard? Really?

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The plural of haiku is haiku (Poetry Thursday returns)

Five, seven and five
Are a haiku’s syllables —
Simple, but complex

People have written a lot of awful haiku (including my introduction); because they are simple to write, but so hard to write well.

In the English-speaking world, haiku are generally identified with their syllable count, but they have other important characteristics.

A traditional Japanese haiku includes a kigo, a word that indicates the season.

Akikaze (autumn wind) or harusame (spring rain) are not just meteorological terms. A haiku captures a singular moment. (Consequently, my introduction is not a real haiku.) And a kigo provides the setting for that moment.

Kigo can be subtle. You don’t have to say “winter blizzard” or even “falling leaves.” For example, kita mado hiraku is a kigo that means “opening the northern windows,” which is usually done in spring when the temperature warms. There is no explicit mention of season, weather or even temperature, but the kigo provides the setting.

A Cleveland kigo could be “salt on my Honda” for winter or “construction again” for summer.

Plants, animals, events — any of these could be a kigo.

Haiku also include a kireji at the end of one of its lines. Kireji are “cutting words.” They function as spoken punctuation like “stop” in telegram.
Consequently, punctuation is substituted for a kireji in English haiku.

Two common kireji are kana and ya. Kana is used at the end of a haiku. It expresses wonderment and is similar to ending a statement with “wow.” Harold G. Henderson compared a kana to “a soft sigh.”

Example from Yosa Buson:
Ochikochi ni
taki no oto kiku
wakaba kana

This translates to:
From far and near,
hearing the sounds of waterfalls —
Young leaves

Contrarily, ya is used mid-verse. Ya splits a verse into two and indicates the two parts should compared. Here’s an example from, perhaps, the most famous haiku ever, written by Matsuo Basho.

Furu ike ya
kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

This translate to:
Old pond —
A frog leaps in,
water’s sound.

I would challenge both of our readers to write some real haiku, not just syllable-counting nonsense that you get from random haiku generators. (In their defense, they call their “haiku” cyberpseudopoetic.)

Capture a moment.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sentenced to write a book, sued for publishing

Three short thoughts. I’ll try to be succinct.

First, ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little book-wise junk food, Tricia. It would be hypocritical for me to tout Dr. Seuss and make fun of your Harlequin fetish.

With that having been said, didn’t I just loan you my wife’s copy of “A Good Man is Hard to Find?” How is a Robin Palmer’s gift of trashy romance a higher priority than my gift of Flannery O’Connor?

And I shudder to think what sort of lasciviousness comes from the “home and family” Harlequin line?

Second, a U.S. District Court Judge has sentenced a guy to write a book. Dr. Andrew G. Bodnar was convicted of lying to the government, and his pharmacy company was fined $1 million for breaking antimonopoly laws. (Ugh, I put that sentence in double-passive tense. Bad Jason.)

You can read the whole story here.

What I want to know is, if Bodnar gets his book published, who gets the profits? Violent criminals aren’t allowed to make money from their memoirs. Should this guy? Moreover, can the judge throw Bodnar in jail if he gets writer’s block?

I contacted our local expert on creative sentencing, Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti, to grade the district court judge’s work. (Cicconetti is an old hand at creative sentencing. He’s ordered people to wear chicken suits, spend a night in the cold, and spell out apologies in pennies.)

Cicconetti said: I applaud Judge Urbina on his creative sentence.

Relevant justice should be the norm, rather than the exception, in cases where the punishment allows others to more fully understand the underlying offense and the possible consequences. Most importantly, the Defendant must relive his crime and better recognize the seriousness of his activity. It is simply to easy to "blow off" a suspended jail sentence and, perhaps some probation, leaving the Defendant with only a sense of relief as he walks out of the courthouse.

Finally, we have some more details on the Salinger law suit.

The best line in the story comes from the defendant, Fredrik Colting.

“In Sweden, we don’t sue people.”

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's to feel guilty about?

I did something the other night that I hadn't done in about 25 years.

I read a Harlequin Romance.

There was a time when my reading-for-pleasure "diet" consisted mainly of Harlequins. My love affair with them peaked when I was about 14 or so. I would check out dozens a week from the library, plowing through the tales one right after the other.

My early teenage-angst ridden self could not get enough of these stories of true love and happily ever after. And as an added bonus I'm pretty sure I owe my speed reading skills to these works.

Still it had been years since I'd even thought about reading one.

Then my co-worker (and Pets Unleashed blogger) Robin Palmer stopped in my office to drop one off. She'd been at Great Lakes Mall where there were free Harlequins for the taking and thought of my love of books.

The book line is celebrating "60 years of pure reading pleasure" with the giveaway.

So I thought, what the heck.

I opened "Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch" by B.J. Daniels.

The book is from the Harlequin Intrigue line. (I'll bet you didn't know there were different lines, did you? The lines are grouped by passion, suspense, romance and home and family.)

The plots are all similar. Girl meets boy. They fall in love. There's an obstacle. They overcome it and live happily ever after. The end.

So from the first page I knew that whatever else happened Dana Cardwell would get her man. And 200-some pages later all was well again at the ranch, mystery solved, lovers reunited.

I'd say that it was a guilty pleasure, but what's to feel guilty about?

I'm a firm believer that all reading is good reading. Is this (or any other Harlequin for that matter) going to make my top 10 list? win a Pulitzer? spark meaningful book discussion?

Of course not.

Did it provide an hour and a half of escape from worries about kids and bills and the economy and housework and office politics and .... you betcha.

- Tricia Ambrose

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

More Pride, More Prejudice, More Zombies

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Thus begins Jane Austen’s finest work on love, prejudice and the undead. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is co-written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who, to my understanding, rewrote an unfinished manuscript that Austen had tentatively titled “Pride and Prejudice.”

The good news: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is everything it promises to be. It’s “Pride and Prejudice” with a superfluous zombie subplot. The bad news: This isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Grahame-Smith changes almost none of Austen’s plot or her characters. He just adds a few fight scenes between the Bennett sisters, Darcy and the undead that plague Britain.

Sure, it’s funny the first time zombies interrupt a formal ball in search of succulent brains. The juxtaposition of ravenous zombies and uptight British folk is the type of stuff Monty Python fans love.

Unfortunately, the joke runs out quicker than the page count.

Grahame-Smith apparently has nothing more in mind than adding the occasional zombie fight. It doesn’t dovetail with the plot in any significant way. If anything, it’s a persistent distraction. If I were an editor who had never read “Pride and Prejudice,” I’d tell Grahame-Smith, “Great story, but cut the zombie crap.”

Grahame-Smith has missed a golden opportunity here. (His title alone is brilliant.) There are, at least, two ways he could have made this a cult classic. He could’ve committed to the inherent zaniness of zombies invading Longbourne; or he could have used the conceit to comment on the similarities between upper-class snobs and zombies.

Grahame-Smith’s primary problem is he’s too precious with the source material. All of the new, zombie-fied prose is immaterial because he refuses to change anything of importance from “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sure, we get a few amusing moments where Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh stop verbally sparring and make with the fisticuffs. There’s also one brilliant scene where Grahame-Smith commits to his crazy idea:

The Bennet sisters and their cousin, Mr. Collins, are accosted by the undead. Unable to fight the entire horde one at a time, Elizabeth sets the lot on fire. Jane mercifully points her musket at one, hoping to put it out of its misery; but Lizzy stops her.

“Let them burn,” Elizabeth says. “Let them have a taste of eternity.”

“Zombies” would have benefited from more of this sort of sacrilege.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Grahame-Smith saves all of his funniest stuff for the Reader’s Discussion Guide at the end. Some sample questions:

1. Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth’s personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine’s ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family’s estate. In your opinion, which of these “halves” best represent the real Elizabeth at the beginning—and the end of the novel?

3. The strange plague has been the scourge of England for “five-and-fifty years.” Why do the English stay and fight, rather than retreat to the safety of eastern Europe or Africa?

7. Does Mrs. Bennett have a single redeeming quality?

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poetry Thursday, interrupted by the undead

We postpone Poetry Thursday for a deserving cause… ZOMBIES!

I hate to give my city editor, John Bertosa, credit for anything. As my boss, he is my natural enemy. He once let me borrow his car and I thanked him by denting one of his rims. I’ve shaken him down for lunch money like the third-grade dork I suspect he once was.

Not only would I kick him when he is down, but I’d change into steel-toed boots first.

The reason I can write this here without fear of consequence? Because I’m certain he would never read a literature blog.

But even I have to admit when Bertosa does something awesome, as he did this Wednesday.

I was busy working on something — honestly, I can’t remember what. It must have been important — when he dropped a book on my desk.

Not a book. The book.

That’s right. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It’s exactly as I would have hoped: a straightforward retelling of Pride and Prejudice with a shoehorned zombie subplot.

I’ve only read the first 60 pages, so expect a more complete review in a few days. For now, I’ll say this:

When it works, it works brilliantly. Take, for instance, the first chapter. It describes the machinations of Mrs. Bennet, trying to find suitors for her five daughters, while her husband cleans his musket and complains about the zombie epidemic. It ends with this chestnut.

“The business of Mr. Bennet’s life was to keep his daughters alive. The business of Mrs. Bennet’s was to get them married.”

Seth Grahame-Smith deserves kudos for maintaining Jane Austen’s tone, even as the Bennet sisters fight a horde of undead that interrupted their formal ball.

Unfortunately, the joke has already started to wear thin by page 60, so will see if Grahame-Smith has any other tricks up his sleeve besides the bizarre juxtaposition.

I figure this is going to be fabulously good or fabulously awful. Either way, it’s bound to be fabulous.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. “Zombies” is the perfect third noun to follow “Pride” and “Prejudice.”

Try other substitutions. Pride and Prejudice and Pirates; Pride and Prejudice and Mallrats; Pride and Prejudice and Delonte West… Nothing can top “Zombies.”

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Waiting for the movie

If you've been to a theater or watched television at all in recent weeks, you've seen the ads for "My Sister's Keeper" due out June 26. (Inc ase you've missed it ...watch a trailer.

It's an adaptation of one of my favorite recent novels by Jodi Picoult.

"Keeper" is the story of a girl conceived to save her ailing older sister seeking legal freedom from her parents.

It's a powerful novel.

I wonder if the film, which stars Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin and Cameron Diaz, will live up to its source material.

I'm willing to give it a try. While I prefer books to movies generally, there have been some films that certainly did justice to their novels.

I think of classics like "Rebecca" (what can I say it is my favorite) and "Gone with the Wind."

I think of more recent works like "Mystic River" and "Atonement."

There have been some disappointments to be sure. Did anyone see "The Secret Life of Bees?"

And then there are those works that fall in the middle. For me, it's the screen versions of the Harry Potter books.

The movies are entertaining and if I hadn't read the books, I'm sure I'd rave. But so much of the charm of J.K. Rowling's works is in its cleverness. Who didn't smile the first time they read Diagon Alley?

It's just not the same experience on film.

What do you think? Is there a movie adaptation you loved? hated?

- Tricia Ambrose

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Kanye West v. Literacy

Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.
-Kanye West

Really, Kanye? Really?

To provide some context, this quote comes from an interview with Reuters at West’s signing for his new book, “Thank You and You’re Welcome.”

Yes, Kanye West is promoting his book by telling people he’s a proud non-reader. Would you buy a CD from a guy who calls himself a “proud non-musician.”

Kanye’s comments are even more grating because the man learned better from his mama. Dr. Donda West (may she rest in peace) was the chairwoman of Chicago State University’s English Department.

Yes, the English department.

Ignore for a moment that Kanye called something else “self-absorbed.” (I’d make a joke about a pot and kettle, but I don’t want to be misconstrued as racist.) Ignore for a moment that he talked about getting a book’s autograph. (In context, it’s obvious he meant "book autographed.")

But it’s frustrating to watch someone as well-recognized and intelligent as Kanye dismiss the entirety of literature. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Kanye’s an idiot. He throws more tantrums than anyone over the age of six should. But his music (especially his first two albums) were an incredible mixture of sampled soul, hip-hop bombast, slam poetry, gospel-funk and orchestral arrangement.

The man knows and loves music. He understands it. He also has an appreciation for art and fashion. (He had Takashi Murakami draw the cover art for his “Graduation” album.) This isn’t a dullard complaining about how wordy books be.

This is an intelligent man rejecting, perhaps inadvertently, part of his mother’s legacy. Kanye has always had an anti-intelligentsia attitude. (Hence, naming his debut album “College Dropout.) And he is right to tout the importance of experience. (A life lived through reading alone is a surrogate life.)

But to broadly insult reading, while pimping your own book, demonstrates an ignorance that is otherwise beneath Kanye.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. How is Kanye’s book, you ask? I’ve only seen the sample pages and they seem to be filled with the same sort of self-help advice that should be obvious to anyone over the age of 15. At least, he isn’t using Autotune.

Friday, June 5, 2009

More stupid sequel ideas

As should be expected, someone had my brilliant idea for me.

Perseus Books Group used the BookExpo America annual event to do something inspired. It collected fake openings to classic books and compiled them in Book: The Sequel.

Anyone could submit. Editor Clive Priddle collected some of the best for his book.

Book: The Sequel was originally available at BookExpo America — a big trade show for the publishing industry, May 25-27 in NYC — but it can still be purchased online.

Some of my favorites:

Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to find his chronic metamorphosisitis had worsened, transforming him from a giant cockroach into an HMO executive.
-The Metamorphosis II: Another Step Down

The president was pleased with his new education bill, in which students with good grades would be swept to Heaven in the Rapture, while poor performers would be kept back to repeat a grade and suffer eternal damnation.
-No Child Left Behind (sequel to Left Behind)

My Spring Break? I don’t want to talk about it.
-Lord of the Flies 2: Ralph’s Choice

“When the revolution comes, you’ll be the first against a wall covered with candy-flavored wallpaper!” the head Oompa-Loompa cried. His followers readied themselves for the song-and-dance sequence.
-Charlie and the Class War

In a large cocktail shaker, mix: 3 parts premium tequila; 1 part Italian grapefruit soda; 1 fresh squeezed lime. Shake well, pour contents over ice into rocks glass.
-Tequila Mockingbird

The sun rose hot and dry over the Lennie Small Memorial Petting Zoo where grimy-faced children lined up to touch the rabbits.
Of Man and Mouse

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Poetry Thursday with stupid bugs

I’m thinking about midges.

You know them. Those stupid flying bugs that swarm my car in June. They line front doors and windshields until it looks like a clear plastic sheet is covering them.

They rise from the water like Swamp Thing and die quicker than my sister’s goldfish.

They are a nuisance on par with Screech Powers and Shawty Lo fans.

The species only accomplished one worthwhile thing in its irritating history. They managed to land en masse on Joba Chamberlain’s pack-o’-hot-dogs neck during Game 2 of the Yankees-Indians playoff series in 2007. The quasi-locust swarm stole Joba’s cool and he blew the game.

So midges and I both hate the Yankees. Otherwise, we have no common ground.

But I got them on my mind.

I blame Lara Heinz. She has the misfortune of being my friend and, with that distinction, comes responsibility.

For example, I handed her a book of Emily Dickinson poetry today and told her, “Pick the poem for today’s blog. I prefer her musings on death.”

(That’s a paraphrase. I don’t use words like “musings” in my rhetoric. I may have said something like, “I like her death stuff.”)

I’ll be damned if Lara didn’t pick the perfect poem (or, at least, a better poem than I would have picked.)

A toad can die of light!
Death is the common right
Of toads and men,—
Of earl and midge
The privilege.
Why swagger then?
The gnat’s supremacy
Is large as thine.

Dickinson’s proposed theory: Death makes us all equal with the midge. My thought: She obviously didn’t live by a lake.

Then again, they did beat Joba...

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Caught in the Rye

JD Salinger is suing someone who has written a sequel of sorts to Catcher in the Rye.

The story is called 60 Years Later: Coming through the Rye. It tells the story of a 76-year-old Holden Caulfield as he escapes from a nursing home and “embarks on a curious journey through the streets of New York.”

The writer is a Swedish/American travel writer who uses the nom de plume John David California. He claims to have discovered Salinger’s masterpiece in an abandoned cabin in Cambodia. (Whatever man, he discovered Catcher in his sophomore English class like everybody else.)

Salinger’s attorneys have called the book a “rip-off pure and simple.”

This story raises three questions:
1. How much control do authors have over their creations?
2. Should California be permitted to release his book?
3. Did J.D. California think Salinger’s lawyers weren’t going to fight him?

Let’s address the last question first. California and Windupbird Publishing had to figure that Salinger or some proxy would sue. Salinger, 90, is notoriously protective of his work. Even though he could probably get a $500,000 advance for his grocery list, Salinger has not published a book in decades. He refuses to be interviewed or to sell the film rights to his story. (Thank God. I don’t need to see Jake Gyllenhaal playing Holden Caulfield.)

California had about the same chance of avoiding litigation as I would if I wrote Harry Potter and the Unhappy Marriage that Ends in a Vitriolic Custody Battle.

I’m not sure the legality of California’s situation; but I suspect Salinger and his attorneys will be able to block the book’s release.

Now here comes the hard question. Should they?

Should California be permitted to release his story?

Sure, Rye II: Electric Boogaloo might be hack work on par with Star Trek fan fiction. But it might be like Jon Clinch’s Finn, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Gregory Maguire’s modern fairy tales. Clinch might not be Mark Twain, and Tom Stoppard isn’t Shakespeare but their stories have merit of their own.

Makal Gilmore wrote, “When you create characters and a storyscape that occupy somebody else’s imagination, you lose the sole authority to determine how that work resounds in other’s dreams.”

This is especially true for corporately owned characters. Could you imagine if people could no longer write Mickey Mouse or Batman stories because their creators’ estates interceded?

Salinger can’t stop California and others from imagining The Further Adventures of Holden Caulfield. (Though he may be able to stop them from being published.)

I suspect someone will ultimately publish a sequel to Catcher. It may be under the auspices of Salinger’s estate decades after his death. It could be this June, if Salinger withdraws his objection. (Unlikely.)

Either way, it will not surpass Salinger or tarnish Catcher’s reputation.

-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

P.S. Other bad sequel ideas:

1985. Big Brother Discovers Whitesnake.

Richmond Heights. A modern retelling of Wuthering Heights in which Heathcliff can’t pass a school levy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

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