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Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Winner of the American Book Award

November 20, 2014 | by

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The third edition of The Complete Directory, prominently advertising its award-winner status.

The early eighties were strange times for the National Book Award. At the turn of the decade, the award’s custodians decided to modernize its image. As Craig Fehrman described the scenario in the New York Times a few years ago, “If publishers were going to spend upward of $100,000 a year running the prizes—not to mention the costs of transporting and feting authors—they wanted something that would give them a better return on their investment.”

And so the National Book Awards—which were, at the time, frankly even more literary than they are today—were dissolved. In their stead came the American Book Awards, a wan bid for populist affection, as implied by that patriotic new name. “It will be run almost exactly the way the Academy Awards are run,” a spokesman told reporters, as if the fickle literary set were hankering for an injection of Hollywood glamour. Or Broadway glamour—a theater producer designed the set for the event, which was to be televised. An “academy” of more than two thousand publishing pros took part in the voting.

In 1979, awards were given in seven categories. In 1980, they were given in twenty-eight, including typographical design, current-interest nonfiction, religion and inspiration, and—my personal favorite—general reference. In essence, the American Book Awards are to the National Book Awards as New Coke is to Coca-Cola Classic, i.e., a complete fucking disaster, one that all parties involved would prefer to forget. Read More »

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Assorted Hijinks: An Interview with Dick Cavett

November 13, 2014 | by

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Cavett on the cover of Brief Encounters.

Forty years ago, The Dick Cavett Show was a place where luminaries sparred (e.g., Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer), where reclusive stars lowered their guard (Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier), and where musicians were actually interviewed about their music (David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon). Cavett’s show put an early spotlight on the Watergate scandal, even taping a special episode with the senators in the very chambers where the hearings were taking place. It’s hard to imagine today’s major-network late-night shows doing anything similar.

The Nebraska-born Cavett began in New York as a broke Yale grad attempting an acting career while working as a copy boy at Time magazine. One afternoon, with a Time envelope in hand, he bluffed his way into The Tonight Show studios and handed said envelope, filled with jokes, to Jack Paar, who was then the show’s host. Paar used some of the material that night; Cavett was hired, and booked talent for Paar, briefly, until a writing staff slot opened up. Later, he wrote for fellow Nesbaskan Johnny Carson before going out on his own, so to speak.

Cavett, at seventy-seven, keeps busy—for the past several years he’s moonlighted as a columnist for the New York Times, and earlier this year he starred in Hellman v. McCarthy, a play off Broadway at the Abingdon Theater Company that explores the legal fallout from a time in ’79 when Cavett had the novelist and critic Mary McCarthy on his show. McCarthy lambasted Lillian Hellman: “She really belongs to the past. As I said in an interview, she’s such a dishonest writer that even her ands and thes are lies.” Cavett plays himself in the play. “The funny thing is,” he told the Times when it debuted, “I was the second choice for the role.”

In July, Cavett made a popular video with Dave Hill and Malcolm Gladwell about the Amazon-Hachette dispute; he followed this with an op-ed in Time about the prevalence of depression in show business (“Robin Williams Won’t Be the Last Suicidal Star”). That same week, PBS aired a special, “Dick Cavett’s Watergate,” about his role in having publicized the scandal.

Finally, last week saw the publication of Cavett’s new memoir, Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks, with a foreword by Jimmy Fallon. To discuss the book, late-night television, and his writing process, I rang Cavett at his house in Montauk.

In Cavett, your book from 1974, you quite vehemently said you had no interest in being a cultural critic. But that’s an arguably accurate descriptor for you.

I would never think of that as a description of me. It has a nice sound, I like the alliteration, but other than that, it surprises me when I’m  called that. Honestly, I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to think of myself as a writer/commentator/ cultural critic /columnist. Especially for The New York Times. I’ve had op-ed pieces in the Times over the years when I was pissed off about something. But I always felt alien to friends who knew exactly what they wanted to be. I’m still wondering.

Anyway, the Times offer came over the transom—or out of the blue. (Is it National Cliché Week?) and I took the dive. (Another one.) I’ve been told I write well, maybe thanks to two English teacher parents who wrote well, so I took the job. It’s not for the money, I assure you. Someone said, do you want to try a column for the Times? And I thought, Sure, I guess. How much. And they said two days a week. Most writers would have meant how much money, I guess. And I said, that seems easy enough, and it was—for about three weeks when I was doing two a week. Then I started to get desperate, because I felt I had said everything I would ever be able to say in a column of any kind. It’s always nice when someone remembers a line correctly from something you’ve written. In a Sarah Palin column, I said, “She seems to have no first language.” And this is much remembered to this very day, I find. Strange.

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Or, the Modern Prometheus

October 29, 2013 | by

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Anyone watching the CW’s Hart of Dixie last night will have noticed, at the 1:40 mark, an unexpected cameo by our very own digital director, Justin Alvarez. (You may know him as the mind behind our Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, among many other things.)

Allow us to set the scene. Dr. Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) and Joel Stephens (Josh Cooke), in the Rammer Jammer, pass a poster for a one-man stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Joel: Oh my—[laughs] I have to send this to my friend Justin at The Paris Review. He is going to flip out. Also, we must go.

Dr. Hart objects, on the grounds that said production is some four hours long and features a third act in German. But this proved to us that the writers of the show know what they’re talking about; Justin (who has an MFA in playwriting, a fact we imagine will figure in his character’s trajectory) is indeed a fan of experimental theater with an enviable attention span.

Our in-office research has informed us that the character of Joel is supposed to be a New York intellectual, and is apparently not a fan favorite.

 

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Recapping Dante: Pilot Episode, or Canto 1

October 7, 2013 | by

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This fall, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along!

Really, this is how you want to begin? With a trope? And do you really think that we’ll let you get away with it because you decided to double down, fold it over on itself, and begin not only in medias res but in the middle of your life, too? We see what you’ve done there. Very fancy; but couldn’t you have at least started at the end, like Sunset Boulevard?

“Midway in the journey of our life”—the cascade of allusions, and all in a single line, creating some sort of referential trifecta, or fourfecta, or whatever the highest number of fectas is. Is it meant to alert a reader that this probably isn’t an airport book—to chase away the ill-suited, like the opening sequence of ?

So far this character has no name, but for the sake of it, let’s call him Dante I. He finds himself in a dark wood, and that he isn’t quite able to remember how he got there feels a bit like an easy, preemptive fix to a plothole. Nevertheless, he goes on his “firm foot always lower than the other” (watch out for phrases like these; it’s safe to assume that whenever any piece of satellite or even self-explanatory information is given, it is probably a giant X telling the savvy reader to dig in that spot).

Suddenly our character is accosted by a leopard, or lonza (a lion-leopard superbeast), and obviously he’s a bit disoriented and doesn’t want to deal with it, so he walks away. But then, a lion appears, and then a she-wolf, and it’s by now such a strange mix of creatures (do they even have leopards in Italy?) that we are left to assume either Dante blacked out and came to in a zoo, is witnessing an ecological disaster miracle, or that these three beasts have some sort of metaphorical significance as well. There’s a chance the beasts each represent a sin, but that feels like a bit of a stretch, so let’s just say that the leopard is Florence; the lion, France; and the she-wolf, the papacy. (Dante, though a Florentine, was in the middle of a battle between two warring houses, and so even at home there were enemy forces out to get him.)

Dante takes off. As he flees, he comes across a figure, and Dante speaks to it. Have mercy, he says, but the English subtitles obscure the fact that Dante is in fact saying this as Miserere, in Latin, and this is when things start to get out of hand. Read More »

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Fall Sweeps

September 30, 2013 | by

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Something is gnawing at the nape of your skull: on the one hand, your favorite fall shows are coming back. But you just read an article about synaptic pruning, the process by which your brain eliminates neurons that don’t get any exercise. And whether or not there’s any truth to this neurological use-it-or-lose-it theory, you’ve nonetheless come to the conclusion that your brain is on the brink of self-destruction. Which is to say: it will get rid of every neuron that hasn’t got anything to do with watching Netflix, looking at Buzzfeed, or eating food that’s terrible for you past 3 A.M.

You want to watch Boardwalk Empire—what will happen to Nucky Thompson, or Richard Harrow? You want to catch up on The Walking Dead, but then you remember that synaptic pruning, and a frightening question about the difference between you and an actual zombie floats through your head.

The convenience of hour-long shows is that they often air on Sunday night, when you have nothing to do. We have a compromise. Don’t spend an hour on the latest would-be cable sensation; instead, tune in for the first season of The Divine Comedy, the hot, new (relatively speaking) series by Dante. Every week, ideally on Sunday at 9 P.M., read one canto—often less than 140 lines!—of what may be the best poem ever written. Season 1 is called the Inferno—think of it as your new Home Box Office.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a teaser with fast cuts and a voice over about one man’s trip through hell that can be embedded into this post, but here are some positive early reviews:

“Dante’s masterpiece is one of the supreme works of art that the ages have witnessed.” —Theodore Roosevelt

“I love Dante almost as much as the Bible. He is my spiritual food, the rest is ballast.” —James Joyce

“Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third.” —T. S. Eliot

And just as every landmark show requires a thorough recap (had you really seen an episode of Mad Men until a a blogger pointed out all the “themes”?), so too will we bring you Dante recaps every week. Go to Barnes & Noble, or BookCourt, or use your parents’ Amazon Prime membership, and pick up the Inferno. We prefer the Hollander translation. The premiere is this Sunday.

To catch up on our Dante series, click here.

Alexander Aciman is the author of Twitterature. He has written for the New York Times, Tablet, the Wall Street Journal, and TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @acimania.

 

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What We’re Loving: Aliens and Birds

April 12, 2013 | by

The-Neighbors

“Repressed Soviet writers had the chance to become political heroes, even when (as in the case of Joseph Brodsky, for instance) their writing was not explicitly political. Every ‘unofficial’ story or poem became an act of bravery, of protest. Illicit literature was circulated among friends and smuggled abroad; the sheer effort devoted to reading and sharing samizdat texts was a testament to their significance. America has its share of homegrown graphomaniacs, hellbent on becoming the next John Grisham or Jonathan Franzen, but it’s just not the same.” In The Nation, our frequent contributor Sophie Pinkham asks what happened to Russian writing. —Lorin Stein

Lately I have been returning to the work of John Thorne. Thorne, who has published an idiosyncratic and resolutely un-foodie newsletter for thirty years, is acknowledged in the trade to be one of our finest food writers. I think he’s one of the best essayists working, full stop: humane, eccentric, incisive. Start with his book Simple Cooking, although you can’t really go wrong. As Thorne writes in his essay “Perfect Food,” “Our appetite should always be larger and more curious than our hunger, turned loose to wander the world’s flesh at will. Perfection is as false an economy in cooking as it is in love, since, with carrots and potatoes as with lovers, the perfectly beautiful are all the same; the imperfect, different in their beauty, every one.” —Sadie Stein Read More »

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