Saturday, December 30, 2006

A 'No Vacancy' Bookshelf Sign

As you can probably tell from my recent spate of posts, I already have far too many books in my small, cramped apartment. It hasn't gotten to the point yet that I've put twenty books in a pillow cover and begun sleeping on them, but I do have 30 books waiting to be read. As I speak, they're balancing precariously on top of my armoire and I'm typing softly in order to not disturb them from their Jenga-like state.

Part of this amassed collection no doubt comes via buying into the mentality of an ex several years ago, be it fortunately or not. She would go to Strand every so often, buy two cartons of books to haul home and justify this act by reasoning that she is "giving them a home". In her mind, used books were like a cute puppy at a pound.

So I have conflicted emotions when a New York City bookstore closes. The latest is Murder Ink, an Upper West Side bookstore that focuses on mystery/noir (and my particular favorite genre). It closes its doors for good tomorrow after being around for 34 years. I've trekked up to its location every 3 months or so to browse and buy, and it's well-known to genre fans; honestly, I'm really hurt to see it go.

So one of the two emotions is sadness, in losing a favorite. But here's the other part: Vulture that I can be, I made sure to visit it in its final days to add books to my 'to-be-read' pile. To a bibliophile like myself, there's a certain giddiness, derived from some primal urge, in buying a bunch of books at one time.

But the mood at Murder Ink was not anything you'd expect it to be today-- it wasn't scavengers fighting over a choice item like what one might see at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving or the haggling one finds at a yard sale. This was far different from the final night at CBGB's, another institution that closed this year. It was quiet and respectful, with many murmurs of "I'm so sorry about the closing" as people left the store. They asked about how the owner was doing and what the gals who manned the counters would be doing next. It was almost funerial and somber in tone. Given the clientele, I'm not sure why I'm so surprised-- it probably was the recent Christmas shopping frenzy.

But, on a somber occasion like this when you're talking about a mom and pop store, it was good to see the treated with the respect it deserved. The customers were truly giving the items from Murder Ink a home.

Friday, December 29, 2006

E-Media Tidbits, Take Note

This is a great concrete example of print media harnessing the power of the blogosphere: The New York Daily News needed to fill two pages for its Holiday Beauty Gift Guide on December 17. They turned to Beauty Addict blogger Kristen Kelly, born and bred in New York City. This is the result. Everybody wins here.

While I'm guessing this was a one-off (Orla Healy is still on staff as their beauty editor), this is a perfect case study of a newspaper leveraging its readership base's specialized knowledge for content. Kristen gets added visibility and (hopefully) a nice freelance check. Will there be more of this in the future over at the Daily News, perhaps?

(Disclosure: Kristen is a friend and I'm incredibly excited for her on this.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"I am a Tortured Writer."

This, above, is a handwritten note I've put up in my office, to remind myself of my limitations.

I am a slow writer, one who pores over sentences again and again, continually parsing words and switching everything around until the deadline is long past due. I recently mentioned this to a friend who works at a newswire -- where you have less than an hour to turn around breaking news -- that I could never do what she does. And I have no idea how the kids at Gawker Media crank out 12 posts a day. I'd rather work at a monthly. Or something quarterly. Something long-lead.

It's not the pressure, but I have a constant urge to fiddle with the written word. And you should see what happens -- or, more accurately what doesn't happen -- when writer's block hits. For those interested in more about this area, he sure to pick up the fascinating "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain", by Alice Weaver Flaherty.

I was reminded of this again while reading the forthcoming book "Made to Stick", by Chip and Dan Heath (review TK). Early on, they quote Ed Cray, an erstwhile journalist who is now a communications professor at USC. There, he relates that "[t]he longer you work on a story, the more you find yourself losing direction. No detail is too small. You just don't know what your story is anymore."

Too true-- it's something I need to work on, and part of why I started this blog, to help with the writing process. I've spent far too long writing and rewriting this post already.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Character is a Psychosis. Integrity is a Complex."

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
-- Jonathan Swift, 1706

One of my favorite books has always been the Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Confederacy of Dunces", John Kennedy Toole's foray into the mind of Ignatius J. Reilly, an intelligent and portly man-child in 1960's New Orleans. So I was heartened to see Peter Hyman raise the seasonal question of whether the book would ever become a film over at
Slate yesterday.

Four years ago, when I was writing at a film site, I actually had the chance to
read the then-current draft of the screenplay. My main hypothesis was that it was destined to fall into the category of "good book, terrible film". In some sense, I still feel that way, honestly. But I'd give an arm and a leg to still see it made.

I still think the opening to the script was grand. As I wrote at FilmJerk at the time: "The start to Steven Soderbergh and Scott Kramer's treatment of the film is sure to cause [the viewer to gape, grin, laugh out loud, and shake his head in wonderment, in the words of Walker Percy]. "What in the world does the title of this ludicrous movie mean?," cries Ignatius off-screen as he, and we, see the credits of "Dunces" unspooling at a children's matinee. Continuing the very "Mystery Science Theater 3000" moment, Ignatius then calls the director a hack extraordinaire, blows a raspberry at those involved with the writing and, when the producer credits are unveiled, yells out, "That's not a good sign; the more producers, the more feeble-minded the production!" It's a great start to the screenplay, one which aptly sets up what is to come and will invariably draw the audience in."

Given what has since happened to the city of New Orleans 15 months ago, this would be a fabulous time to re-start the journey from page to screen-- to make it a tribute, in part, to a fallen city. It's going to be a hard sell to audiences, I'm sure, but the potential is there for this to be a majestic -- albeit goofy -- film.

I continue to hold out hope it makes it to the screen, someday.

(Disclosure: Peter and I both worked at the same PR agency eight years ago)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Really, You're Delightful

I have fallen into the verbal rut of saying people are delightful. Half of the time I mean it; the other half, notsomuch.

If you're reading this and I've called you delightful in the recent past, nothing to worry about-- you're in the former category, obviously.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not Leavin' on a Jet Plane

Uncle, uncle. Unlike some others I know, I am not cut out to be a road warrior; I've long battled a fear of flying. Hell, the joke is that I can't even handle being on an airplane unless there is a promise of palm trees and tropical drinks on the other end.

But, in the past two weeks, I've been forced to make two one-day trips to somewhat-distant cities via plane. Nothing beats getting up at an ungodly hour to take the first possible flight out, and return back to NYC less than eight hours later. At the end of each trip, I was barely coherent and locked in a fetal position in the cab ride home.

You want to see a wonderful sight, really?: Watch me during take-off and you'll see that my knuckles turn an odd shade of white as I grip the armrests for dear life. I'm sure that wild-eyed look of panic I display only adds to that wonderful scene.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Whittling the Weekend Away

I am hoping this weekend will pass quickly-- but I'm not in a rush for a new work week to begin or anything like that, nah. At approximately midnight Sunday, the fourth-season finale for "The Wire" will spring onto the scene. And I will be watching, rapturously. And, most likely, more than once. I can't wait to see what transpires, the build-up has been amazing.

This is not the first time I've written about this HBO seies, nor will it likely to be the last. But there is a certain sadness in knowing, in little less than 24 hours time, I'll have to wait more than a year to see the next season. And, the more I see what series creator David Simon intends to do with the fifth season -- check out this interview in Slate that ran Friday -- I'm counting the days.

(And how sad is it that I've been holing myself up in my apartment all weekend, sorta, watching a mini-marathon of the first season?)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Time to Make Today's Papers

Last April, I highlighted the first thing I read each morning-- Today's Papers, from Slate. It's a crisp, straight summary of what the major U.S. newspapers (The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal) feature on their front pages each day. To say it's invaluable is a major understatement.

Back in August, Eric Umansky -- then the editor -- announced he was leaving and that Slate would be having a "bake-off" between three writers for the feature's editorship. To absolutely no fanfare, Daniel Politi began November 1 as the new editor. A writer living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, his first effort writing TP came in November 2004 and, before officially taking on the role, had written 70 editions of the feature.

If you haven't already, sign up for the free daily e-mail-- and be sure tell Daniel he's doing a fine job, which he is. It's yeoman's work, as this 2003 Mediabistro feature on Umansky illustrates.
If I might make a suggestion for Slate? I'd love to see the site develop a sister newsletter to this one, examining the business pages of the U.S. papers as well-- I'd sign up for that.