Tag Archives: New York Times

Fun Home now a Broadway musical

Seriously.  I reviewed Alison Bechdel‘s  Fun Home here, and all in all, enjoyed this graphic novel about the coming of age of a lesbian cartoonist, her unusual family and the likely suicide of her almost certainly gay father.  And while it was darkly comic in tone, it was not a laugh riot.  Now it’s an Broadway musical.  Well, strictly speaking, off-Broadway, at the Public Theater.

So what’s that like?  I wondered.  Alison Bechdel says “It’s really, really good.”  Through the magic of Youtube, I have a little preview.

Would I go?  Heck, yes!

The New York Times calls it “a beautiful heartbreaker of a musical.”   Sadly, the extended run is only through December 29.  If you go, feel free to post a comment for the purposes of rubbing it in.

Mea culpa. Back with Jack Reacher!

So, for anyone who has missed me:  A)  I’m sorry.  And B) I’m back!

I’m happy to be back  to blogging after a crazy few weeks.  Fortunately, I can report that while I was not reviewing, I was definitely reading, and there is a humongous stack of books on the “to review” list.

childI’ll start off with an easy one:  Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back.  There’s no deficit of reviews out there.  In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Robbins is critical, but “swigs down” the latest Reacher anyway, all while positing that perhaps the time has come for Lee Child to move on to another protagonist.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Janet Maslin is an out-and-out fan.  She’s got a few nits to pick, sure, but mostly it’s about the ride.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a Reacher fan.  One who has read every single Reacher novel and the few short stories I could find.  One of those people who got super-annoyed when Paramount cast Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise!) in the movie.  (Read more about that here.)  Seriously, Lee Child himself would have been a better choice.  Some of the books are better than others, but they’re all pretty much thumbs up in my book.  My husband, on the other hand, read a couple and then gave up on Jack Reacher.  He demands character development.

Needless to say, I liked Never Go Back.  I agree with every nit picked by both Michael Robbins and Janet Maslin, but that didn’t spoil it for me.  I buy that Reacher wins every fight he’s in, no matter how outnumbered or out-gunned.  I buy that almost every woman he meets is both attractive and romantically available.  I like his way of thinking and his way of talking.  I was even okay with the book where we were not sure at the end if Reacher was killed.  (Spoiler: no, he wasn’t.)  But I do think that Child cheated, big-time, with one of the plot threads.  It kinda bugged me.  I’ll say no more.

Grooving on the Java Jive secret language of love

Espresso-cupAs Laurie Colwin’s heroine Olly Bax said in Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, “I’m in love with the Sunday New York Times.”  And so am I, so in love that I end up reading the Sunday paper throughout the week!  There is not much better than the Times, two pugs, a cuddly throw, and a giant cup of coffee.  Even better, this Sunday, there was a mesmerizing article by Ben Schott on the esoteric language of coffee houses.  From NYC to Seattle, the baristas have developed micro-languages.   Click here to read all of “Java Jive.”

KissIn the meantime, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s some vocabulary that’s caffeinated love:

  • Nice weather for ducks:  Cute customer in line!  (Alternatively, nice shoes.  Trabant Coffee & Chai, Seattle)
  • “Crush”tomer:  Cutie the barista has a crush on. (Joe, NYC)
  • Check the Honey:  “Can you check the honey?” means there’s a cutie in line.  (Chicago’s very own Wormhole.)
  •  Cuddly:  An older man “creeping out” a younger woman (Press, Dayton)

This Bright River

Patrick Somerville writes literary fiction… but if you examine the plot of his most recent novel in bright light, what you discover is a crime novel.   And not unlike many crime stories, you not only have today’s crime, but you have underlying crimes from the past.  What’s different about Somerville’s This Bright River is that layered on top of the mystery and the suspense is a pretty deep frosting of angst.   I found the book to be convoluted with a surprisingly high number of disaffected characters and an equally surprising high number of assaults, sexual and otherwise, but it was also quirky, charming, and hard to put down.

Basic plot:  Ben Hanson’s just out of jail (mystery #1 – for what?) and hanging at his childhood home in St. Helens, Wisconsin.  His dad wants him to help get his uncle’s home up north ready to sell.  Doing so brings up the past for Ben; his favorite cousin Wayne froze to death there as a teenager.  (Mystery #2 – why?)  He runs into his old friend from high school, Lauren.  She kinda had a crush on him, back in the day.  She’s working at the local vet’s, despite the fact that she’s a medical doctor.  She seems weird and little spooked.  (Mystery #3 – what happened to her?)  He also reconnects with his sister, Haley, who shows up unexpectedly without husband or kids.  Something’s up there, too.  (Mystery #4 – what could this be?)

By the time it all gets resolved, we know what Ben went to jail for, why he’s going to be rich even though he rejected his trust fund, what happened to Haley as a teenager that caused cousin Wayne to kill a man, who helped him hide the body, how Lauren’s physician husband Gaslighted her and how he undertakes to kill her and Ben both, how Haley’s husband got caught soliciting a transvestite prostitute (figured I’d give that plot point away!), and how Ben became a hero.  There are additional adventures (Ben’s sexcapades with the local realtor, for example), but that’s enough for now.

Somerville has a deft hand with dialogue, keeps the story flowing in all the many directions it needs to flow in, creates intriguing and likeable characters, so even if you say “Good Lord, I can’t believe it!” while you’re reading, you’re still having a pretty good time.

Reviews of This Bright River have been mixed.  I’m not surprised.  Janet Maslin’s review in the New York Times made much of the labyrinthine tributaries of the book’s plot, and as Somerville later wrote, her review was “not positive.”  However, Maslin made a factual error in her review, and not a little one, either.   Somerville’s response to the negative review, and to the subsequent correction is told very amusingly in this article in Salon, titled “Thank you for killing my novel.”  I admire Somerville even more for his honesty.  As he notes, he’d like to think that Maslin’s error negates every other not-so-positive things she said… but it didn’t.

His impassioned perspective:  “The goddamned thing rambles, I know! It’s big and unruly and everywhere! But that’s why I love it! It had to be that way! But some people won’t love it! And hopefully some will!”

Can you trust a book review?

Nope.  Or at least not according to an article in today’s New York Times.  If  you review books for love, not money, you will find this article very disheartening.  Basically, many of those big, wet smooches out there were bought and paid for.  And the cost?  As low as $5.

Titled  The Best Reviews Money Can Buy, the article by David Streitfeld tells the story of Todd Rutherford.  Entrepreneurial Rutherford, struggling as a cog in the PR marketing machine for a self-publishing company, found it extremely difficult to entice reviewers to review the books… and even harder to get the kind of stellar reviews the authors wanted.  The solution?  Create a company to pay readers to review positively.  Actually reading the book?  Not required.

Disturbingly, Rutherford’s company made tons of money, as much as $28,000 in one month, according to the Times article.   But an unhappy author posted “loud, angry accusation” on several consumer websites about Rutherford, and the next thing you know, Amazon took down his reviews and Google  suspended his advertising.  Another service he launched – to get authors to review each other’s works – was not successful.  He’s trying the review business again, but with no payment to the reviewers.  Good luck with that.

This is the 226th post on Literary Lunchbox.  The vast majority are book reviews.  Not a single one has been paid for.  Not a one has been done as a favor.  Many are middling reviews, a few are scathing, and I think you can tell when I really, really love a book.  It should be pretty clear that I’ve read every book I reviewed, cover to cover.  I don’t hand out stars or give numerical ratings on my blog because books are a little more complicated than that.

Recently, however, I did a review of David Cristofano‘s new book, The Exceptions.  I had previously read and liked his debut novel, and I got a notice by email from his publisher that the new one was out.   I replied by email to say thank you for letting me know, I’ll be sure to read it!  I put it on hold at the library and went on my merry way.

The next day, a follow-up email.  Send me your snail mail address and I will send you a complimentary copy.  I thought about this carefully before I replied.  Thoughts included:

  1. Really?  You noticed my blog?
  2. But will getting the book for free influence my review?
  3. Still, how is this different than getting an Advanced Reading Copy at a conference?
  4. And how is this different from the books that are sent to reviewers who work for traditional media outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times?

I provided my mailing address.  The book came.  I read it and enjoyed it, and my review reflected that, but there was no gushing.  If I had been disappointed by The Exceptions, I would have said so.   There’s a line between right and wrong, and I don’t think I crossed it.

There is no doubt that the publishing industry is in flux.  Everything’s changing.  But for authors to buy positive reviews is just out-and-out unethical, and the practice of buying and selling reviews is diminishing the value of everybody’s reviews.  And that makes me pretty discouraged.

So, listen to your friends.  Find reviewers that you trust.  And consider doing some reviews yourself… on Amazon, on Goodreads, or even start your own blog. Because the more people who really love books share the love, the less opportunity there is for hacks and scammers!

So, I’m a giant Nicole Hollander fan

I mean it, I love Nicole Hollander.  I love her comic strip, Sylvia, so much that I went on a total rant and complained nonstop to the Chicago Tribune when they dropped her strip.  (Well, not nonstop.  But you know what I mean.  I complained a bunch.)

So, on Sunday I saw she was having a show and sale at an art gallery on Damen, and off I went.  And she was great.  Tinier than I knew, but very interesting and sociable.  I’m going to write some more about this and post some pictures of the stuff I bought.

But the purpose of today’s post is to just demonstrate how dang funny she is.  I subscribe to her daily newsletter, which gives me a comic and usually a blog post, too.   And she really made me snort coffee this week when she posted about the New York Times‘ column in the Sunday Styles Section, “What I Wore.”

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I get the NYT every day and I read the Sunday edition cover to cover except for sports and the marriage section.  (However, I do scan the pictures of engaged couples to test my hypothesis that people are usually marrying people who are their same level of hotness.  This almost always true, even when it’s a gay wedding.)

But even I get exhausted when some fashionista whose name I don’t know writes a 500-word column about one of their days, hour by hour, and what they wore, especially the brand names.  Nicole’s post lampooned this with a post of her own, sort of a comic-maven version of What I Wore.  So this made me snort in agreement and cheered me up on the el.

To me, the amazing thing is how many times people in New York change clothes every day, at least according to the Times.  Here would be my column:

I got up late  – what a crazy night! – and put on my trusty Gap jeans (dark blue wash),  a white Jones New York lycra blend t-shirt, an asymmetrical black sweater (also from the Gap), and my well-worn New Balance tennis shoes with crew socks that sort-of matched. I threw on a chunky faux-gold stretch bracelet from Chico’s and a pair of twisted hoop earrings, real gold, given to me by my husband and purchased at Oak Park Jewelers.  He’s so romantic.  I wore them all day long and then at 9:00 pm, I dashed upstairs to put on a vintage faded blue nightgown. (Purchased circa 2004 from Marshall Field’s, and likely some house brand but who knows because the label has been gone since about 2006.)

Anyway, I went through her blog (Bad Girl Chats) looking for a particular post and couldn’t find it, but just spent half a hour wandering around in there and I encourage you to do the same.   Also fun is her cat stuff at Cafe Press.  Take cattitude and add caffeine.

Go ahead, grab a pen. Or a mouse. But turn off the internet!

So it’s the start of a long weekend and I had planned to devote this afternoon to the mystery novel I am currently working on.  I turned off the work computer at 12:30.  It’s 2:20.  In the meantime, I have eaten lunch, walked the dogs, and got sucked into the blogs I follow.  (What are you up to, Jog Fatboy, Jog?)

One of these is a blog called Grab a Pen.  The blogger is a 22-year old girl (her word) who writes YA novels – Tahera Mafi.  And she’s a hoot.  Today’s post is about how to write a novel. There are just 100 easy steps!  And 1-23 are all preparation.   I liked “buy yourself a new laptop because obviously you deserve it,” because that’s what I did when I first started writing.  No single character appeared on a page until I had my first iMac.  Also “hope nobody notices the protagonist is really you.”  Ha!  Check it out.

On the opposite side of the blogosphere, Roger Ebert has a big write-up in today’s New York Times.  (Warning: the photo will break your heart.)  One of my favorite guys ever for his movie reviews, Roger has been challenged by cancer, can no longer speak or eat.  So naturally he is doing an interview for his new cookbook.  The cookbook sounds like something I could actually use – how to make everything and anything in a rice cooker.  (Note to self- buy rice cooker. Buy cookbook.)

The article mentions Ebert’s blog, which I did not know existed, and of course I had to spend some time checking it out.  Glad to see his voice is still strong!  As it is now 2:38, I will close and QUIT PROCRASTINATING…