Monday, November 30, 2009

Felix Dennis

In case you forgot just how mesmerizing poetry can be:

Monday, November 23, 2009

25th Anniversary Rock and Roll HOF Concert

The anniversary concert airs this Sunday on HBO. And going in, you know it’s going to be a circus. One filled with all kinds of stunts and gimmicks. Like this here: Mick Jagger and Fergie singing “Gimme Shelter” with U2 as their backing band:

Well, all I have to say is...

Bring it on! Gimme stunts! Gimme gimmicks! I can’t wait. It’s just six days’s just six days away...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Strict Joy

Glen Hansard (of the little-known band The Frames) made his presence on our cultural radar a lot more pronounced when he teamed up with Marketa Irglova in the movie Once. The two of them are back with a new band — The Swell Season — and a new album called Strict Joy, which yours truly recommends without hesitation.

Meanwhile, here are Hansard and Irglova rocking Austin last night with the song that made them semi-semi-famous.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fleisher Art Memorial

The Fleisher Art Memorial is hosting a town hall this Thurs., November 5th, at 5:30 pm, which is slated to be an “open discussion with Fleisher staff to learn about our efforts to evaluate Fleisher’s programming, gather ideas, and brainstorm solutions.”

“Solutions?” you may be wondering. “To what?” Well, the answer seems to appear on another part of their website:

“The current economic climate has reduced some of our investment income, and challenged staff to think creatively about how we deliver our programs.”

A benevolent little birdie is telling us that, sadly, all that creative thinking has resulted in this decision: Jack up the prices.

For more than 100 years, Fleisher has provided tuition-free art instruction to city residents of all economic and cultural backgrounds. Please help protect this wonderful gift. If you can, please get to the town hall this Thursday and be a part of the discussion.

In advance, I thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, October 26, 2009


This is just great. Henry Hill reacting to Jimmy Rollins’ walk-off double to end Game 4 of the NLCS.

Anyway, all fun aside, the time has now come. The Evil Empire must be taken down. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. (Goethe did not say that.) Go Phillies.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stevie Nicks

Riveting footage of Stevie Nicks, caught backstage in 1981, singing “Wild Heart” while her makeup is being applied.

History, as it’s thus far been written, has gotten Stevie Nicks wrong; she was a singular talent, and isn’t respected nearly enough.

...on the other side of it, she was good for making fun of:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mario Puzo

The late novelist/screenwriter would’ve turned 89 this week. In this clip, he discusses, among other things, the process of adapting his novel, The Godfather, to the screen.

(NOTE: I’ve argued — always to the wild disapproval of friends and family — that the murder of Fredo was unnecessary. Here, the author shares that he never intended for Fredo to be killed, but that Coppola kind of forced his hand. Hmm.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009


For no real reason...

Philip Roth on his novel Everyman, on religion in America, and more. Part 1 of 2.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wheel of Fortune

New fiction from yours truly, the pages still warm from the typewriter. Let me know what you think.

Wheel of Fortune

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll

Jim Carroll died yesterday. Heart attack. He was 59.

If you’ve never read The Basketball Diaries, do yourself a favor and put it on your list. “Ugh,” you might think, “not another drug-addiction story.” Yeah, I get that. But while journalists, novelists, reality-TV producers, etc., have surely beaten this topic to death, The Baskeball Diaries was one of the first views mainstream America got into heroin addiction. It came out in 1977, a memoir culled together from the diary entries Carroll kept as a boy in New York from ages 12 to 16 — from the moment he first experimented with heroin, through the teen years that followed when he struggled with hardcore addiction. When I first read this book, my eyes were cartoon-character-wide the entire time.

Here’s a clip from the movie version, which came out in 1995. Be warned: this scene is waaay melodramatic, and Lorraine Bracco absolutely mails it in (look for the stamp on her forehead). But DiCaprio is so believable it’s freaky. Keep in mind, if some version of this scene really happened, the real-life Carroll would've only been about 15 at the time. Wow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Ian McEwan is profiled on the South Bank Show. Particular attention is given here to Saturday, his much-lauded “post-9/11 novel.” Felt like the right week to post this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to school

To all the guys heading back to school this week, be sure to remember Mike Damone's Five Point Plan for getting chicks:

“All right. Now, pay attention. First of all, you never let on how much you like a girl. ‘Oh, Debbie...hi.’ Two. You always call the shots. ‘Kiss me, you won’t regret it.’ Three. Act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be. ‘Isn’t this great?’ Four. When ordering food, find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It’s a classy move. ‘The lady will have the linguine in a white clam sauce, and a coke with no ice.’ And five. Now, this is most important, Rat. When it comes down to makin’ out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Raymond Carver

A good, if older, documentary profile of one of the great ones: Raymond Carver. (Part one of several.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Character literature

One of the Philly Book Geek readers, Carol, recently posted a message on the forum about compiling a list of great 21st century “character literature” (or “character fiction”).

I love the idea of this as a broad genre — a descriptor for a type of book where characters are thoroughly drawn and psychologically explored. We often think of this as being the realm of “literary fiction,” but LF is a little more specific than that. LF carries an academic air, and stories within this realm are almost always emotionally wrenching. But what about fiction that features well-rounded lead characters without that “literary” feel?

My eldest daughter has really gotten into some of Judy Blume’s work recently. Peter Hatcher, Andrew Marcus, Abigail Porter — these are all wonderfully well-developed characters, who drive narratives that are both intriguing and existentially exploratory. But I don’t know anyone who would call a book like Freckle Juice “literary.”

I’d like to see this term “character fiction” get some more play. And if it should become more universally recognized, we may consider LF a sub-genre within CF. Eh?

Monday, August 10, 2009


Wilco might be my favorite band working today. Check out this performance from a recent Letterman show, wherein they play “You and I” from their latest (with Leslie Feist joining them on vocals). Great stuff.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Doomsday for our libraries?

You heard about Mayor Nutter’s city budget rally last week. This is serious stuff. The proposed state budget plan calls for a 50% cut in State Aid to Libraries. Such a cut will decimate Philly’s public library system — closing branch doors and putting 500 people out of work.

But you can do something about it. Write your state senator, representatives, and Governor Rendell, and tell them that our public libraries matter to you. It’s quick and easy to do. Click here to find a downloadable letter template and a bunch of email contacts.

The more of us who make our voices heard, the more they’ll flinch before pulling the trigger on this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Eyes Wide Shut

My take on Stanley Kubrick’s final work, EYES WIDE SHUT, on the ten-year anniversary of its release. Check it out.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Literature Map

Only click on this if you’re willing to get lost in it for at least ten minutes: The Literature Map. I will say no more. Enjoy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Like something from a Don DeLillo novel...

In this clip, UK comedian Tommy Cooper literally dies on stage. But the audience just laughs along, thinking it’s part of the bit. An oddly disturbing piece of video, though I’m not quite sure why.

Monday, July 13, 2009

King on Kubrick

This Thursday, July 16th, marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut. In honor of the event, here’s a blip of Stephen King sharing an anecdote about the enigmatic director:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Paul Siegell

Hometown poet Paul Siegell’s latest collection — jambandbootleg (read: “jam band bootleg”) — was just released. You can buy your copy here.

To give you a taste of his work, here’s an intriguing video/poetry short based on some verse from his first book, Poemergency Room:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jack Kerouac

I’d completely forgotten about this: a posthumous voice-over reading from Jack Kerouac in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. The images on screen compete with those that Kerouac’s words are creating in your mind, but it’s still a good sequence.

Two lines in particular that I love from this. The first is when God tells him: “Go thou and be little beneath my sight.” (How perfect is that?) Second is when he considers his present loneliness and looks out to glimpse his inevitable end, and says: “Nothing here but my own tragic hands that once were regarded by a world with sweet attention, but now are left to guide and disappear their own way into the common dark of all our death.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dave Eggers

The Eggman has a new nonfiction book coming out called Zeitoun. Goo-goo-ga-joob. It follows a Muslim-American family around New Orleans during the Katrina disaster. Sounds inarrestin’.

Eggers recently sat down with Stephen Elliott from The Rumpus for a “long interview,” which you can read here. Enjoy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut

I unpacked a storage unit on Saturday, which contained a bunch of boxes filled with books. During the process of unloading and organizing these many disparate volumes, I noticed that I own far more books by one author than any other: Kurt Vonnegut. Funny, ‘cause while I do consider myself a great fan of his, I would never guess him to be my favorite; e.g., if I were at a party and someone were to challenge me to list my favorite writers in order (a drunken, unreasonable query to be sure, but bear with me), I likely would rank him fourth or fifth. But on Saturday afternoon, with the evidence to the contrary scattered before me across the living room floor, that notion sure did disintegrate fast.

Anyway, for the hell of it, here’s Part One of an interview with the guy who appears to be my favorite all-time author, which took place in what has to be nineteen-seventy-something. (Notes: 1. The opening is super-cheesy; best to start at around the 2:15 mark, a.k.a. “Chapter 1,” 2. You can link to further installments of this interview from there.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

James Frey v. Oprah

Frey is in town this week to promote his new fiction book, Bright Shiny Morning. Seems like a good time to post this: a video of Frey’s publisher, Nan Talese (Doubleday), giving her account of what happened between the author and Oprah Winfrey. Says Talese here: “I really, really am bothered by the sanctimoniousness of Oprah Winfrey, because it simply does not exist.”

Yowzaa. Now this is her take, so who knows how accurate it is. Regardless, it takes brass ones for a publisher to lower her shoulder and go right at the Big O (non-Oscar-Robertson variety) this way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Junot Díaz

Some great points here re: the Myth vs. Reality of American Culture, and the pervasive unspoken misogyny therein.

Monday, May 18, 2009

John Cheever

For no particular reason...

A 1976 Paris Review interview with John Cheever. Enjoy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

10 Rules for Writing Fiction

In celebration of Elmore Leonard’s visit to our fair city this week, I give you his “10 Rules for Writing Fiction”:

(Some of these are spot on. But man, does he have a lot of rules for what you should NEVER do. Never use a prologue? What if a prologue is exactly what the story needs? And Rule #3 has always bothered me. Never use any word but “said” to carry dialogue? If a character is upset while speaking, is “How dare you?” she said really better than “How dare you?” she cried? All right, all right, enough. I love and revere Elmore Leonard. Go to this event if you can: this Thursday (5/14) at the Free Library. You won’t be sorry.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Choke Off

Thought I’d post this since Mr. Palahniuk will be at FLP this Friday for a reading and discussion. Here, he talks about being 12-years-old, masturbating for the first time, and immediately wondering how he could turn this activity into money. (The punchline is so easy, I can’t bring myself to type it.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Nuclear Poetry

“Tangled Up In Blue” came across the shuffler the other day, and I was struck by this line (as I’ve been anytime I ever heard it):

She was married when we first met,
Soon to be divorced.
I helped her out of a jam, I guess,
But I used a little too much force.

Whew. Damn. Talk about economy of language. How rich the characters, how endless the plot possibilities, what wealth of emotions are suggested by these spare 28 words?


Monday, April 20, 2009

More Frank O’Hara...

A great scene from Mad Men, where Don Draper recites a passage from Frank O’Hara’s “Mayakovsky” (from Meditations in an Emergency):

Monday, April 13, 2009

Reaching Your Less-Than-Tortured Genius

Some interesting thoughts here, from the author of Eat, Pray, Love. I take issue with the premise of Gilbert’s argument, which seems to be that creative people are tortured by their talents primarily because of their fear of failure.

Two problems with this premise (for me):

1. Why aren’t people in other professions similarly tortured? (She mentions her father, a chemical engineer, never having to deal with this type of mental anguish — but she doesn’t offer a reason why not.)

2. Isn’t it more likely that the very mental construct that makes an artist, is the vehicle that drives his/her emotional despair? (I think of D.F. Wallace, who recently hanged himself. I don’t think he was troubled by the question of whether he would ever eclipse the success of Infinite Jest, as much as he was tortured by the existential questions and flabbergasting human observations that drove him to create the work in the first place.)

Ultimately, her suggestion of resurrecting the concept of the muse seems like a type of self deception, a way to excuse a shrinking away from responsibility for your own work. (I mean, come on — if your book sucks, that’s because you didn’t write a very good book. Are you really going to half blame the phantom whom you’re pretending lives behind the drywall?)

More to the point, this entire speech seems to be Gilbert’s personal emotional exercise in how she will negotiate the pressures and expectations forced on the rest of her career following a success that may never be duplicated or exceeded. A brave exercise, to be sure, but not one whose lessons should be foisted on an auditorium full of young artists.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

In honor of Joan Didion’s visit to Kelly Writers House this week, an excerpt from THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING:

I realize as I write this that I do not want to finish this account.

Nor did I want to finish the year.

The craziness is receding but no clarity is taking its place.

I look for resolution and find none.

I did not want to finish the year because I know that as the days pass, as January becomes February and as February becomes summer, certain things will happen. My image of John at the instant of his death will become less immediate, less raw. It will become something that happened in another year. My sense of John himself, John alive, will become more remote, even “mudgy,” softened, transmuted into whatever best serves my life without him. In fact this is already beginning to happen. All year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar: what were we doing on this day last year, where did we have dinner, is it the day a year ago we flew to Honolulu after Quintana’s wedding, it is the day a year ago we flew back from Paris, IS IT THE DAY. I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John. This day a year ago was December 31, 2003. John did not see this day a year ago. John was dead.

I was crossing Lexington Avenue when this occurred to me.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.

I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

Let them become the photograph on the table.

Let them become the name on the trust accounts.

Let go of them in the water.

Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.

In fact the apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my every day seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic.

# # #

Monday, March 23, 2009


I had no idea J.M. Coetzee’s masterpiece had been made into a film. Not sure how to feel about this. Will I be seeing it? Of course.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Philadelphia Film Festival

The Philadelphia Film Festival and Cinefest 09 kick off next Thursday, March 26th!

The Festival’s centerpiece screenings include HUNGER, a political drama that chronicles the hunger strike led by IRA leader Bobby Sands in 1981; and THE ANSWER MAN, a Sundance 09 feature that was shot in Philadelphia, staring Jeff Daniels as a self-help author who’s still struggling with the fallout of a hit book he wrote 20 years ago. For ticket information, click here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Finite Jester

A pair of readings from the late, great David Foster Wallace:

Monday, March 2, 2009

To the Harbormaster

My latest novel, The Moorings, has been a work in progress for more than two years now. But I just recently found what may wind up serving as its epigraph. Found it by happy accident, really, skimming through Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. There was the key word itself, right on line three. And after reading this beautiful verse a few times over, then giving it time to take root in my mind, I’ve begun to see this poem as the ideal way -- perhaps the only way -- to set the tone for my story. (A story which, at its core, is an examination of the tattered cordage of Matt Connelly’s will.)

So whilst not made for me, I thank the brilliant Mr. O’Hara graciously and posthumously for his gift nonetheless.

“To the Harbormaster”

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
of my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds are not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

# # #

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Beginning February 21st, the Free Library of Philadelphia will be hosting screenings and discussions of Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat (1996), as part of its One Film program. Click here for more information and showtimes.

Before turning to filmmaking, Schnabel was a painter — part of the Neo-expressionist movement of the early 1980s. Among the other leaders of that movement were Jean-Michel Basquiat and another brilliant and tragic artist named Chuck Connelly. Never heard of Chuck Connelly? Then you’re missing out. Check out some of his work here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For no particular reason...

Jonathan Franzen, interviewed by Charlie Rose (2001).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond

If you haven’t yet heard, a new exhibit kicks off at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on February 26th: Cézanne and Beyond. This one is slated to feature forty paintings and twenty watercolors and drawings by Cézanne, plus a twist: these works will be displayed alongside later works by artists who drew inspiration from Cézanne. So this is your chance to see some choice Cézanne pieces flanked by similar work by Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Max Beckmann, Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard, and more. Nice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Updike on Updike

Pardon the cheesy production value, but this is an interview from 1995 worth viewing. Updike discusses, among other things, his short story “A&P,” which was always one of my favorties. RIP, John.