News that "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is being made into a big new movie starring Ben Stiller is somewhat worrying, and I say this as one whose favorite movie may well be Zoolander. Tad Friend's recent New Yorker profile of Stiller, "Funny is Money" (subscription-only) is full of disquieting (and fascinating) details about the project; apparently there's a comic shark attack involved. It's a mystery how Thurber's 1939 story of an ordinary man's daydreams, so small in scale, so evanescently brief (just 2,200 words), and so deceptively modest in its message, should have attracted the notice of so many producers of large and noisy entertainments. But it [...]
Part of a series for the new Awl Music app.
For me it was "Bitter Heart" by Seona Dancing, feat. a slender, Bowiefied Ricky Gervais singing the lead vocal ca. 1984. Such a shock he was really quite lovely in that dandified way boys had about them in those long-ago days. I, then a callow goth, was partial to this exact varietal, and should certainly have been setting my turban at M. Gervais had the opportunity presented itself. At the Batcave in London or at the Camden Palace I accidentally went in the men's room once to find the most ravishing sight, some fifteen boys crowded along a [...]
The Australian art critic and historian Robert Studley Forrest Hughes died yesterday at the age of just 74. He'd withstood such a lot, coming back after weeks in a coma following a terrible car accident in Australia in 1999. I thought he was so strong that he would still live to be 100. Part of his name, even, was 'Studley'! And that is just what he was.
What is the best thing Hughes ever did? How to choose from this embarrassment of riches? The obvious answer would be his stately, gorgeously comprehensive history of the convict settlement of Australia, The Fatal Shore (1987). Equally obvious: the 1980 TV [...]
Tom Scocca's Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future has just come out in paperback. This distinctive American's-eye-view of China's capital is bracingly cerebral without didacticism, intimate and touching without the slightest trace of "self-realization." I loved it.
Maria Bustillos: There is so much I want to know about your book, and about China. How long has it been since you were last there? How has the book been received? How old is [your son] Mack, [who was born in China], now?
Tom Scocca: We haven't been back since I was doing the epilogue, in May 2010. The book's been received pretty well, I think. Or [...]
Little did I realize, when I popped over to the Urth Cafe on Beverly a few days ago to talk with the musician David Lowery about artist compensation in the music business, that within the week he would be at the center of one of those "Media Firestorms." Founder of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, Lowery is a big, charming, voluble, bearded ginger who natters as fast as I do; he also has a mathematics and programming background and knows a lot about amateur radio, and is a big dork. We had a marvelous talk about the above-named topics over coffee. I'd become interested in his recent work [...]
In June of 1889, Andrew Carnegie published his essay "Wealth" in the North American Review: a famous document, as remarkable for the author’s delusional self-regard as it is for the case he makes for private philanthropy. The steel baron launched his argument with the dumbfounding claim that until "the past few hundred years [of human history] there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, environment of the chief and those of his retainers." He then sails blithely along to insist that we should all welcome the changes in society that make violent wealth inequality inevitable, because the benefits of wealth must inevitably trickle down to the least [...]
In 1914 Max Beerbohm wrote to Vyvyan Holland, the younger son of Oscar and Constance Wilde, on the occasion of Holland's wedding. Beerbohm sent his regrets for not having been able to attend the wedding, together with a present.
It has the advantage of being easily breakable if you don't like it. The glasses are (you will be relieved to hear) of British manufacture, but I can't tell you just when they were made. I asked the old man in the shop to tell me the date of them. Whereat he stroked his chin and, looking at me over his spectacles, said "Well, Sir, what would you say to [...]
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."—Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
An old friend once told me a story about her son Edison and this other kid he grew up with, Brendan. It seems that when they were really little, like six or so, the boys were on a soccer team, they were playing soccer and Edison fell and was hurt. And everybody clustered round and was all ooh, ahh, to make sure he was okay. Straightaway, Brendan totally faked an injury of his own, thumped to earth and started wailing, so that [...]
If I could award a prize for the best chapter title ever given in a work of fiction, I would bestow it at once on British author Ernest Bramah for the title of Chapter III of Kai Lung's Golden Hours (1922): "The Degraded Persistence of the Effete Ming-Shu." Bramah is better known for his blind detective, Max Carrados, but to my mind the comic tales of Kai Lung (most of them free on Project Gutenberg) are his best. They are sublime, particularly if you enjoy a rococo, antiquated, kooky imitation-Chinese English style:
"It has been said," he began at length, withdrawing his eyes reluctantly from an unusually large [...]
February marked the twenty-first anniversary of the publication of a book of poems by the gifted actor Ally Sheedy. It was called Yesterday I Saw the Sun, and she was famously excoriated for it. Sheedy was then 28 years old and coming off a very bad patch, including a stint at Hazelden; she had picked up an addiction to Halcion during an ill-fated fling with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and her friend Demi Moore is said to have scooped up the remains of Sheedy and posted them to rehab by way of an intervention. Terrible business, but the braying press went after her anyway. "Ally Sheedy from bad to [...]
In early 2003, when evidence emerged that plans for war against Iraq were not merely afoot, but were looking more and more like a fait accompli, the French advised the luridly stupid and prevaricating administration of Bush II against an invasion. This sound suggestion was roundly condemned by nearly every Republican who could get in front of a microphone, culminating in possibly the dumbest episode of the run-up to the war: the announcement of Representatives Robert W. Ney and Walter B. Jones, Jr. that thenceforth the various House restaurants would be serving "freedom fries," rather than French fries. "This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show [...]
Romance fiction is widely reckoned to be a very low form of literature. Maybe the lowest, if we're not counting the writing at Groupon, or on Splenda packets. Romance fiction: probably the worst! An addictive, absurd, unintellectual literature, literature for nonreaders, literature for stupid people—literature for women! Books Just For Her!
Low or not, romance is by far the most popular and lucrative genre in American publishing, with over $1.35 billion in revenues estimated in 2010. That is a little less than twice the size of the mystery genre, almost exactly twice that of science fiction/fantasy, and nearly three times the size of the market for classic/literary fiction, according to [...]
The Times and a host of other publications heralded last week's new study extolling the lifelong money-earning benefits of having a good primary/middle-school teacher. Oh, yay! Let's do what these economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggest, right?
Actually, ugh, no. What economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia want to do, apparently, is to identify and fire "weaker" teachers, for the sake of a barely perceptible increase in students' "lifetime income." Nobody has actually tried this yet; the report doesn't describe an experiment. It's just the conclusion they draw from their analysis of massive amounts [...]
On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb test took place in the Tularosa Basin of the Jornada del Muerto desert near Socorro, New Mexico. Just three weeks later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be bombed: the only time nuclear weapons have ever been used in war. The test was code-named Trinity, and it forced a radical shift in the way that human beings came to regard their place on earth; from that day onward, for almost seventy years, we've lived in the uneasy knowledge that a very few people might gain the power to destroy all civilization—all life, even. The events of this day produced the chief wellspring of [...]
Data from StatCounter.
Did you know that most of Firefox's budget comes from Google? That is because Google pays the Mozilla Corporation, the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation, a share of ad revenue gained by displaying Google as the default Firefox search engine. By most, really, one means "almost all": in 2010, 84% of Mozilla's royalty revenue came from Google, and royalties counted for $121 million of the Foundation's $123 million in income. Pretty good sugar.
The agreement expired in November. (It first expired in 2006, was renewed through 2008 and then again through 2011.) The rapid growth of Google's Chrome browser threatened the survival [...]
The late Steve Jobs is known to have been very keen on "taste." Microsoft has absolutely no taste, he said, going on to explain that by this he meant that "they don't think of original ideas, and they don't bring much culture into their product." Great products, he said, were a "triumph of taste." The exquisite taste of Jobs himself has long been a matter of doctrine in the tech world. Kevin Kelly's remarks after his death expressed the general sentiment: "Steve Jobs was a CEO of beauty. In his interviews and especially in private, Jobs often spoke about Art. Taste. Soul. Life. And he sincerely meant [...]
In "My Disappointment Critic," the essay excerpted in the Los Angeles Review of Books from Jonathan Lethem's new collection, the author defends his book The Fortress of Solitude (eight whole years later!) against what he considers to be an unfair review written by the august literary critic James Wood.
"Why, I hear you moan in your sheets, [...] violate every contract of dignity and decency, why embarrass us and yourself, sulking over an eight-year-old mixed review?" Lethem asks in the very first paragraph. The fairness of this question is evident in the general response to the essay so far, e.g. this comment: "Nothing more tedious than authors [...]
In 2000, Stuart Manley, the owner of Barter Books of Alnwick, Northumberland, found a folded poster at the bottom of a box of random books he'd bought at auction. (Barter Books is a very famous and beautiful bookstore housed in an old train station. Many features of the original station have been left intact, and there are model trains running around the shop on a high track above the bookshelves.) Mary Manley, Stuart's wife and partner in the shop, took a liking to the poster. It was framed and displayed behind the till. Right away people started trying to buy it off them: Not For Sale, they were told. [...]