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24 May

CABookA week or so ago I was having brunch with a couple friends and we were talking about David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, which I’d just finished reading and had very much enjoyed.

I asked my co-brunchers what they thought of the book and one of them, a Mr. Tom Bissell, did this Bissellian thing he sometimes does and said, “I had some issues with it, I actually wrote the New York Times review.” Which is like, well, congratulations on having the winning opinion of Cloud Atlas.

It did strike me as funny that he’d written that particular review, since just a few days prior I had been joking about the outrageously lofty praise found on the book’s jacket. I’d even mentioned it in a post on this very blog. I remembered the pullquote from the NYT review in particular, partly because it’s prominantly featured at the top of the paperback edition’s back cover (see photo) but mostly because it’s awfully laudatory:

“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”

At brunch, Tom was quick to point out that he wasn’t nearly so effusive in the rest of his review. When I got home, I read the full review, and of course it’s this very smart, thorough take on the book. And indeed, it’s far from a rave. Tom acknowledges the things Mitchell does well, but for the most part looks askance at Cloud Atlas, straddling as it does the line between triumph of human storytelling and android feat of literary engineering.

I mean, check out the sentence immediately following the book-jacket pullquote:

“But ”Cloud Atlas’ is the sort of book that makes ambition seem slightly suspect.”

So the full paragraph containing the excerpt is as follows:

“It is a devious writer indeed who writes in such a way that the critic who finds himself unresponsive to the writer’s vision feels like a philistine. So let it be said that Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page. But ”Cloud Atlas” is the sort of book that makes ambition seem slightly suspect.”

Tom then goes on to note, “The novel is frustrating not because it is too smart but because it is not nearly as smart as its author.” I guess that bit isn’t making it onto book jackets anytime soon. It’s a good review, go read it.

Sometimes game publishers will contact me about reviews I’ve written for Kotaku, asking permission to use pullquotes on their marketing materials or game boxes. It’s something my boss and I figure out on a case-by-case basis, though for the most part promotional quotes, even truncated ones, are fine by me. They quoted me in this Journey trailer once, calling the game, “A triumph… astonishing.” Cool by me, given that what I actually wrote, excerpted from my review, was even more over-the-top than that:

ThatGameCompany’s creation is a triumph, a video game that is as remarkable for its discipline as it is for the effortless manner in which it welds its vast reserves of breathtaking beauty.

(Jeez, Kirk. Slow down, have a cigarette.)

I think I’m on the box for Far Cry 3, or maybe just in a trailer? It was something like, “Gorgeous… immersive.” Okay, sure. I liked that game, too.

That said, I’ve never had a quote appear where, in the full text of the review, the very next sentence qualified the quoted praise. And there have certainly been times when I’ve turned down quote requests because they didn’t reflect the spirit of what I wrote.

But I’m not really criticizing Cloud Atlas‘s publisher or the NYT, and I have no idea how this sort of thing is hashed out in the literary world. I don’t even think that using that particular quote out of context is all that misleading. As far as I’m concerned, David Mitchell is clearly a genius, and if someone in a bookstore wants to read a book written by someone who’s clearly a genius, Cloud Atlas will do the trick.

But it was a good reminder that it’s important to, well, read the fucking article. Pullquotes are selected  to help sell stuff. Well-executed criticism usually contains artful ideas both celebratory and critical, whether they’re written in magma or in plain ol’ Times New Roman. Embrace the phrase, not the paraphrase. RTFA.

Things I Read And Watched While On Vacation

6 May

ImageLast week, I took a vacation from the internet. And from work! Which kind of IS “The Internet,” as far as I’m concerned. Where do you work, Kirk? I work at The Internet.

So, I took a week and unplugged from the internet entirely. Kind of like This Guy, who got paid to do the same thing over at The Verge, only he did it a whole year, and it sounds like it was a lot more intense than my week. I walked away from Twitter and Facebook, put up a fairly draconian-sounding gmail out-of-office message, and I was  good to go. Continue reading

“Middlesex” the TV Show?

7 Jul

middlesexIn an afternoon dominated by a strange funeral and pocked by other, smaller bits of bad/weird news, I almost forgot to mention that I came across a rumor on the pop-culture site Pajiba (whose writer, in turn, heard it from B&C’s website) that Jeffrey Eugenides’ fantastic novel Middlesex is – allegedly – being considered by HBO for adaptation into an hourly TV series.  To which I say, “Hell Yes!”

Assuming that the personnel rumors are true, I don’t know how Rita Wilson will do as an executive producer, though I do know that she produced “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which is sort of like the lite, romantic comedy version of Middlesex, if that makes sense. So, that could be great!

And despite the rumored presence of Donald Margulies as head writer, I hope that Eugenides himself will be around as a writer or producer, as well.  In the novel, his incredibly well-crafted and personable narrator created a palpable sense of place, particularly during the bits set in 1980’s Detroit, and hopefully they’ll be able to get that transferred to the screen as faithfully as possible. Then again, if anyone other than Eugenides would get it right, seems seems like it’d be someone like Margulies, so… very cool.

With the right cast and timeslot, this could make for a fascinating, epic show.  When The Wire, The Sopranos, and Deadwood all went off the air (and John from Cincinnatti flopped), it felt like everyone was mourning the end of the golden age of HBO, but I dunno… In Treatment, True Blood, Big Love, the long-awaited pacific-themed follow up to Band of Brothers, and now Middlesex?

Sounds like a pretty killer line-up to me.

No Country For Old Jews

9 May

Read this book.

Don’t ever let it be said that Hollywood never gets novels right.  Last night, I (finally) finished the last 100 pages of Michael Chabon’s spectacular The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which had laid unopened on my bedside table for several months.  I just didn’t want it to end, and couldn’t quite bring myself to read to that last page.

Though I knew even before finishing that this was a truly special book (I even ranted a bit about it a few months back), now that I’m done, I’m going to go ahead and say that it was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had, straight through the last page of the story and into the book’s glossary of yiddish terms.

And in contrast to the somewhat meandering conclusions of most of Chabon’s other (wonderful) work, Yiddish Policemen ends with an exhilarating exclamation point – I was expecting to finally reach the last page and feel sad that my journey with these characters had ended, and instead, I found myself pumping my fist with a “Hell yes!”

What’s more, the whole time I was reading, it was clear that this story, this kosher noir set in a fictional land of Rebbes and Black Hats, of Verbovers and Rudashefskeys, where no one’s loyalties are set in stone and everyone’s packing a sholem… that under the proper guidance, this world would transition seamlessly to the silver screen.

So, upon finishing, I looked up who would be making the inevitable film adaptation, wondering who could possibly be up to the task… and really, it should have been obvious.  I mean, what filmmakers could tackle a realist noir set in an alternate version of the present, filled with murder and deceit and shocking violence? A painstakingly created universe populated with wonderfully strange, larger-than-life characters whose language is as twisty as it is brilliant?  Who could pull something like that off?

That’s right.  The flippin’ COEN BROTHERS have been signed on to write and direct the film.  I cannot tell you how freaking pumped this makes me. Really, the only way you can understand is if you go and get this book and read it now.  For real, you’ll thank me.  Not only will you get to read one hell of an amazing book, you’ll also be prepared for what will almost undoubtedly be the best films of 2010.

I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for this story, for these characters, than the Coens, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a movie to come out.

Nerd Cred

4 Apr

Ever since the “Which Buffy Character are You?” FB quiz said I was Willow and and the “Harry Potter Sorting Hat” quiz put me in Ravenclaw, I’ve been thinking of parallels between the Buffyverse and the Potterverse. Or should that be the Whedonverse and the  Rowlingverse?  Eh, probably the first one.

So, in an effort to elevate my nerd ranking from Orange (“Switched from D&D to GURPS in order to have more narrative freedom”) to Red (“Wears a brown duster every day until Universal announces a sequel to Serenity”), and also in honor of Buffy season 3 finally being available on Hulu, I sat down and had some fun with Photoshop.

The Scooby Gang = The Houses of Hogwarts


Favorite season, favorite book. Good things come the third time 'round, apparently.

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In the Footsteps of Good Men

6 Mar


…yeah, baby.

The Wolverine Dream

15 Feb

xmen01Last night I had The Wolverine Dream again.

You know the one; you start in a sort of nebulous dream-place, surrounded by nebulous dream-people, when suddenly, things start to take form, there’s an air of urgency, the people with you start to feel familiar, and then – attack!  You’re under attack by unseen forces! You aren’t sure what to do, then you look down at your hands and… snikt!

It was pretty cool. The Wolverine Dream is always cool. After I woke up and established that my skeleton had not, in fact, been fused with Adamantium (I’ll spare you the details on how I determined this), I got to thinking. The students at Charles Xavier’s mansion have, as far back as I can remember, captured my heart and imagination to a degree unmatched by any other fictional characters, comic-book or otherwise. Forget the Planeteers and the Power Rangers – what is it, exactly, about the X-Men?

The teenager factor. I have no doubt that this has been written about all over the place. The most powerful and least subtle appeal of the X-Men comics lies in the comics’ far-reaching metaphor for adolescence. As these teens near adulthood, boys and girls with the mutant gene discover that their bodies are changing in strange ways that they can’t control. They’re developing frightening, uncontrollable, and often dangerous new powers.  They try to hide their new-found differentness and almost always fail. Their physical appearance undergoes radical changes, often for the freakish. They become social outcasts. If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, well, that’s not an accident.  These stories resonate with us because to one degree or another, we’ve all been there ourselves.

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