Friday, May 28, 2010


I don't really know whether to write this piece about Norman Mailer, or Norris Church Mailer, or James Walcott, who wrote this impressive piece for Vanity Fair called "The Norman Conquest." It's a little odd that I find this piece so entertaining, since I've never read any Norman Mailer (please leave suggestions and advice as to what I should do about this in the comments). However, Walcott's piece is pretty much one of the most whimsically well-written bon-bons of literary reportage that I've read in a while.

Really what I'd like to read is Norris' memoir, A Ticket to the Circus. She was married to the dude for thirty years. In a piece in the NYT a few weeks ago, she claimed that sex was the glue (no, the honey, she corrected herself) that held them together through his insatiable philandering. I don't know whether to respect Norris or hate her. Was Mailer really a genius? You'd have to be pretty great in the sack and a genius and really love your children for a woman as beautiful (and smart) as Norris to stick by you, right?

Walcott's piece was born as a comment to all of the Mailer paraphenalia coming out of the woodwork the past few months. His cook/assistant has written Mornings with Mailer, then there's Norris' memoir, and a mistress memoir by Carole Mallory barfingly titled Loving Mailer. (The jacket! THE JACKET OF THIS BOOK). If you're stuck trying to chose, New York Magazine has this very handy dandy breakdown of the memoirs of Mailer's women.

Wow. I hope when I die there are people vying to tell about my literary legacy. I guess I had better start stabbing people at parties.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweets through the Bittersweet

Yesterday my review of Kate Moses' Cakewalk went up at The Millions. I hope you'll read the review and the book, a memoir of Kate's childhood and her difficult relationship with her parents. At the end of each chapter she includes a recipe, from a sweet featured in the chapter. Though the recipes are a nice addition (and delicious, I might add - I made her peanut butter cookies) what really rings solid and true about this book is Moses' struggle to come to terms with her parents' marriage and her mother in particular.

I know I have always expected my family to be loving - and I'm very lucky that most of my relatives are supportive. However over the last year I've had to accept that simply because I share DNA with someone doesn't mean they will be a positive, supportive presence in my life. After years of emotional abuse, I've just stepped away. I'm open to the idea that things could change, but I don't expect them to.

Moses' book made me realize that the people who truly love us love us for who we are, flaws and all. Those are the people we want to keep around - they want to see us succeed, see us happy, see us live in the city we love, make a life with the person of our choosing, and encourage us towards fulfillment. This message seems like it should be commonplace, but in looking back at my life I have allowed myself to spend too much time with hurtful, negative people who are intent on tearing me down and seeing me fail. I'm done with those people, and I'm ready to appreciate those in my life who make me feel good about who I am - or who I'll become.

So pick up a copy of Kate's book. She's a fantastic writer - you may have heard of her last book, Wintering, about Sylvia Plath's last weeks. Read a few chapters, bake a cake for that person who loves you for who you are - there are plenty of recipes to choose from.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Whoa! and Beeswax

I changed the layout of this blog after six years of the same damn thing. What do you think?

A few weeks ago, I watched Beeswax (which is currently streaming on Netflix, fyi) - a very cinema verite film about identical twin sisters floating through life in Austin, Texas. A.O. Scott had some very lovely things to say about the film when it was in theaters last year. When I say "real-life cinema" I mean it: the twins are played by actual identical twins. They, and all the other actors in this movie are "unprofessional actors." Watching Beeswax is like watching your friends talk in front of a video camera. As time (and the internet) marches on, I suspect we'll see more films like this one: unscripted and amateurish, uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo. Making movies is expensive and getting an independent film distributed is near to impossible.

Andrew Bujalski, the director of Beeswax, has been called the "Godfather of Mumblecore," and with no-name, non-professional actors, he's creating movies closest to the original meaning of Mumblecore in comparison to some of his compatriots who have gone off for more mainstream success. However, according to his wikipedia entry, Bujalski is now at work on a screen-adaptation of Benjamin Kunkel's novel, Indecision, for Paramount pictures.

Mumblecore is an American independent film movement that arose in the early 2000s. It is primarily characterized by ultra-low budget production (often employing digital video cameras), focus on personal relationships between twenty-somethings, improvised scripts, and non-professional actors.

Beeswax tells the story of twins Jeannie and Lauren, who, after a relatively lazy and comfortable life, have to come to terms with some major changes. Jeannie, who is wheelchair-bound, finds herself in a legal dispute over the ownership of her vintage store with her absentee partner. Lauren is smugly unemployed, going through the motions of trying to find a job but unsure of what she wants to do. Merrill is Jeannie's former-boyfriend - she brings him back into her life under the guise of needing legal advice as he's studying for the Bar. To say that anything really happens in this film would be to misunderstand it, but in the vein of Sherman's March, it is deeply enjoyable. It's refreshing to see young people struggling for stability and meaning in their lives - real young people, who aren't inexplicably wealthy or attractive like 20somethings in Hollywood movies. The actresses who play Jeannie and Lauren are strikingly beautiful in a unique way, very muscular, Amazonian women. Beeswax feels almost New Wave in its reluctance to offer us anything more than a splice of life permeated by mood and sideways glances. It's the ripple-effect from these subtle details that makes Beeswax truly compelling.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Young Female Novelists

I asked and you guys answered!
A list of 20 female novelists from Dilettantsia readers:

1. Vendela Vida
2. Julie Orringer
3. Asali Solomon
4. Becky Curtis
5. Karen Russell
6. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
7. Ceridwen Dovey
8. Judy Budnitz
9. Leanne Shapton
10. Nicole Krauss
11. Nell Freudenberger
12. Marisha Pessl
13. Curtis Sittenfeld
14. Jhumpa Lahiri
15. Selah Saterstrom
16. Rivka Galchen
17. Lydia Peelle
18. Rachel Cusk
19. Zadie Smith
20. Ann Patchett

There are a few ladies over 40, but really: who cares? As William but it best in the comments: "40 is a pretty tough number though. Everybody loves a phenom (for the first 10 minutes at least) but by and large the rule of 10 hits novelists just like anyone else." For the record, Virginia Woolf didn't publish her first novel, The Voyage Out, until she was 33; it had been a work in progress for nine years.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Got Women?

Virginia, HELP.

On Wednesday night, my friend Trish asked me who were my favorite contemporary female writers. I named one in particular: Sarah Manguso. If you haven't read her memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay, please do so immediately. But what about novelists? Fiction writers? Trish asked. Oh, I thought - well, Mary Gaitskill: Veronica. Well, Trish said, yes, but who else? And younger? I was stumped, and upset.

So who are your favorite*
  • Female
  • Contemporary
  • Novelists
  • Under 40
*favorite meaning you are a fan of their work(s)

Later, I came up with Zadie Smith. That was it. Is it just me or is there a massive black hole in fiction? Where are the young female novelists? Do they exist? Are they having trouble getting published? Is it just that women are all writing non-fiction pseudo memoirs right now? What the hell is going on? Please leave some names in the comments and prove me wrong!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Metropolis Restored

Fritz Lang's unbelievably progressive film Metropolis has long been a favorite of movie buffs all over the world. Made in 1927, Lang anticipates skyscrapers, television, elevators and highways in this story of industry and corruption.

However, since its original premiere in Berlin, most viewers have found the film confusing and a bit aimless. After the movie was released, there were complaints about its length (2 1/2 hours) and it was cut down by thirty minutes, and the excised film was presumed destroyed. Not so! In 2008, Fernando Pena, a film archivist, found a copy of the complete Metropolis in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aries. Film Forum in New York and select theaters across the United States are now showing the restored version during the month of May, with a DVD release to follow.

I saw the restored version on Monday night, and it was well worth it. What's interesting: the missing parts only survive as 16mm transfers, so it's easy to discern as you watch the film which are the new scenes. The character of The Thin Man, who was practically removed from the last version, plays a much larger part. The acting abilities of the main characters are fully exhibited, and major plot points that seem completely essential to the understanding of the film's vision have been restored. This film is now engaging and heartfelt. I spent most of the time gasping and wondering how the hell Fritz Lang managed to film scenes that feature angry mobs, burning at the stake, and large-scale Ayn Rand like cities without the help of special effects. Metropolis is truly a marvelous example of ingenuity and cinematic genius.

The restoration is not only a triumph for film scholars - it's an absolute delight to any audience member. Go and see it now!

Monday, May 10, 2010


As a kid, I loved flying. I still love the liminal space of an airport - you're neither here nor there, in some in-between world, where one can talk on the phone and read magazines and think about life. But now flying scares the hell out of me. The last three flights I've taken have been turbulent and bumpy. Last night especially - there had been "strong winds" at LaGuardia and every time the pilot tried to descend, we hit turbulence.

How are we ever going to get down? Will I get off this plane alive? How crazy is it to get in a giant metal tube and propel oneself across the country? Please God, I thought, if you let me get off this plane, I promise I'll stop worrying so much, I'll stop flipping out about other people, stop reading so much stop thinking so much. Just let me live.

It's Monday morning. I'm alive, I'm at work. I had to let three L trains go by this morning. I open my Google reader to find criticism on a piece I wrote. I'm not an academic! I don't have the time nor the funding to sit in the library all day! (Believe me, I wish I did). I'm broke, etc. God dammit, and here we go. First world problems, right?

I wish I could stop thinking and just start living.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Around the Interwebs


Dear friends, I apologize for neglecting the blog as of late, but you will find me a few other places on the internet this week.

I made my debut at The Millions with this piece on Food and Writing. Publisher's Weekly then mentioned it on their morning report.

At This Recording I wrote an essay on one of my favorite writers, Sylvia Plath.

My monthly column at Bookslut is up, this one on Suzanne Collins' Sci-Fi Young Adult novel Hunger Games.

And lastly I've had a great deal of feedback on my review of Emily Gould's And The Heart Says Whatever at Time Out, including a nice nod from Jezebel.

As always you can find all my published clips at

Thank you for reading!