October 7, 2010 | by Chris Weitz
This is the second installment of Weitz’s culture diary. Click here to read part 2.
The Times reports a boardroom struggle at Barnes and Noble. I have little sympathy for the big book chains, as they have played such havoc with the independent book market. Los Angeles, contrary to popular prejudice, used to be a great bookstore town; there was Midnight Special1 on Third Street and the late, much mourned Dutton’s, which used to be my favorite bookstore in the world, not least because it was arrayed in three different buildings around a courtyard, and no one thought twice if you exited one building with a pile of books under your arm without paying, because you were on your way to a different department. That sort of expectation of civility is lacking these days2. Nowadays Book Soup seems to be the only holdout3 in the city, and they have recently been acquired by Vroman’s, the Pasadena independent. Most of all, I lay a curse upon Borders, who sucked up masses of customers by convincing people that bookstores were social venues with DVDs and coffee bars, and then imploded spectacularly, having put dozens of mom-and-pop places out of business.
Part of the blame goes to Amazon, of course, which means part of the blame goes to me4. Still, I comfort myself with this thought: Books sold in actual space, even books on actual paper, may die off5; but the instant accessibility of books, the lower cost, the preposterous speed of acquisition, may lead to a more ready consumer. I buy more books because I have a Kindle, and because they cost less, I am more willing to take a flier on a book that I might otherwise not lumber myself with.
In the meanwhile however let me recommend Heywood Hill on Curson Street in London. Among other things, they are fantastic at locating hard-to-find volumes, and when the third volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was unavailable in the States they were more than willing to send it to me. But if you happen to be in the area you can stop by for events, such as when Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was at the shop to sign copies of her eagerly awaited memoirs Wait for Me! The Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister.” My editor, Pete, tells me that the Mitford sisters would spread jam on their butler’s head to attract wasps away from them. I hope this is apocryphal.
On the way home from work, I listened to the Disinformation podcast, a bunch of clever Southern misfits covering the occult, conspiracy, and esoteric beat. This time it was an interview with occult historian Gary Lachman, who also happens to have been one of the founding members of the band Blondie.
In bed tonight, Mad Men seemed a little too much of a harsh toke so we took it easy on ourselves with The Mighty Boosh, the absurdist British comedy. I had the pleasure of meeting one of its contributors, Richard Ayoade, familiar to a select few as Dean Learner from Garth Marengi’s Darkplace (can’t explain, just watch it). Richard’s first feature, Submarine, just premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was picked up6 for distribution by the Weinstein brothers.
Still concerned with a cryptic statement of Heraclitus as reported in Anthony Gottleib’s The Dream of Reason. He minted some real Hall of Famers, like “Character is destiny” and “You can’t step in the same river twice,” but he was also responsible for this one: “Death is all things we see awake. All we see asleep is sleep.” Will sleep on it. Read More »
- Now, I believe, a Puma store.
- I also miss the redoubtable Scotty, who seemed to have read everything.
- I’m sorry, I don’t count Diesel; they are largely decorative.
- I even found myself, on an early morning in London the other day when Simpson’s of Piccadilly (now part of the Waterstone’s chain) was closed, ogling items in their window and searching for them on my iPad. Simpson’s lost a sale simply by being closed.
- I can remember from my days working at a bookshop that much of the business of staying in business consists of hiring a staff that can actually locate the books people are looking for; losing the sale of a book that’s in stock is a sort of tragedy for a bookstore. But no human being can beat a search algorithm.
- Congratulations and the very best of luck, Richard!
October 6, 2010 | by Chris Weitz
DAY ONE, KIND OF
The first thing that occurs to me at the beginning of my cultural week is a question about criteria. What qualifies? If you read—or, as I did, listen to—Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, the whole of culture is going to hell in a handbasket, as mash-ups and the digital entrepôt rid us of professional reportage, musicianship, originality, and notions of humanity itself. He cites Facebook as an example of the degrading of our standards: What is a “friend” from now on? Punters of my generation—and probably most readers of The Paris Review will find this a curious thing to say, but my three-year-old son will likely see it as a word for the tally of standardized connections amassed through the mediation of a Web site.
DAY ONE, REALLY
Monday begins, technically, at 12:00 A.M. “Sunday night,” with an Alan Watts1 lecture on the subject of “Play and Sincerity.” I have long used Watts to put me to sleep, which implies that he is soporific. Not so; it’s that I find his voice comforting.
I also indulged in Zombieland2, the unfeasibly entertaining comedy directed by Ruben Fleischer. Of the two ruling monster metaphors currently infecting the public mind (the other being vampirism, to which I have to confess I have contributed), I favor the flesh-eating variety, though that may simply be an indication that I have a Y chromosome.
While we are at it, I am afraid that I rate Justin Cronin’s vampire epic The Passage a “sell.” The word is that Ridley Scott is to direct the movie version, and this may be one case of a book that benefits from boiling down. I hope that Sir Ridley is in his best science-fiction mode and can bring some of the quotidian genius3 that he brought to Alien and Blade Runner.
My dad, who served in the Office of Strategic Services at the end of World War II, always said that the New York Times was the greatest intelligence resource in the world. When I got old enough to have developed a taste for a newspaper without (as he called it) funny papers, we had two subscriptions for the house, so that there would be no scuffling over favorite sections. (We also received the Post, for shits and giggles.) Read More »
- For the uninitiated, Watts was a former Anglican priest who abandoned his vocation and trained as a Zen Buddhist monk. In his lectures, he refers to himself as an “entertainer.” To listen to him is to grasp the woolly abstractions of the New Age as common sense. And his rarefied, BBC English provides a marvelously counterintuitive texture to his thought.
- Zombieland convinces me that comedy is the way to handle these matters. I am very partial to Robert Kirkman’s superb comic The Walking Dead, though I worry that the AMC TV edition might suffer from a po-facedness that the comic manages to duck.
- One further tentacle of digression: Scott’s first film, The Duellists, is marvelous. It was adapted from a Joseph Conrad short story. My Dad and I used to watch it every year.