Monday, May 08, 2006

Link-Mad Monday #2; Review #22

It's Link-Mad Monday again! Here are a few of the things I wanted to be sure to mention this week.

  • This one's a little old already, but did you read this infuriating article in the April 28 Sunday Times? Titled "Dizzy or Smart: What's a Girl To Be?", it posits that "dizzy is the new smart" in literature, especially chicklit, and suggests that dizzy "means rejecting a caricatured version of feminism, studiousness or ambition in favor of even more caricatured womanly wiles." No wonder teenage girls are reading the GOSSIP GIRLS and THE A-LIST (see Bookseller Chick's many-sided conversation on this issue) when the adult women are reading THE MEN I DIDN'T MARRY and THE DEBUTANTE DIVORCEE. Call me a snob, but it's not that I'm opposed to chicklit; I'm just not sure when smart, principled, multi-faceted women got labeled humorless and no fun and dumped in favor of boy-obsessed fashion models. Maybe it has something to do with the post-feminism of "Sex and the City"... but don't get me started. Fortunately there are plenty of intelligent, three-dimensional women in literature still, even in chicklit -- I'm reading a very smart and fun book in the genre right now that I'll review soon.
  • Have I mentioned Carl Lennertz' supercool blog Publishing Insider? It's a cornucopia of bite-sized entries on books, music, and publishing world events. Today he mentions the brilliant idea of Ariel Gore, author of THE TRAVELING DEATH AND RESURRECTION SHOW, who is making her book tour accompanied by a live band, a puppeteer, and fire eaters. I read the book and wasn't crazy about it, but man, that's a book tour for the 21st century, and I am all about it.
  • Another great one is the Words Without Borders blog, co-written by a team of book people from around the globe. Currently they're focusing on the "Reading the World" project, in which a number of independent bookstores (including mine) will prominently display and promote selected works in translation to encourage reading international fiction and nonfiction. It's a great project to open our minds to the existence of literature outside our national borders, and there's always something new happening at the site.
  • Saturday was Free Comic Book Day! -- a great tradition in the comic book world (thanks to the scrumptious First Second Books weblog for the link). The ALP and I made Forbidden Planet on Broadway our comic shop of choice, and though we were slighly disappointed at the randomized titles we got in our little baggies (I was hoping for the fabled new Runaways issue), a free comic is a free comic. What if publishers or bookstores instituted Free Book Day? -- it seems to be both a clever way to clear out old stock, and a way to build excitement about new series or titles. You picks your baggie and you takes your chances, and a good time is had by all.
  • This one's not a link, but a clipping from the Countdown to Book Expo newsletter, in the section "BEA Educational Panels to take note of:

The Frontline Booksellers' Summer Picks

Sponsored by Pages Magazine
May-20-2006 3:30PM - 4:30PM
A collection of frontline booksellers (those hardworking folks who actually hand-sell books directly to readers) will highlight 4 or 5 Spring/Summer releases they intend to recommend to their customers. These frontliners will share backstory details of discovery and early publisher/author interaction regarding the titles they are so passionate about, as well as planned in-store/online promotions and other marketing strategies that they intend to employ to entice their customers to buy.

Hosted by
Robert Gray - Founder, Fresh Eyes Now

Yes, your Book Nerd will be part of this illustrious panel, along with respected colleagues from Politics and Prose, Harvard Bookstore, Shaman Drum, and The Book Vault. Any guesses which of my recent reads I'll be recommending?...

And now for a book review.

Book Review #22

by Mark Binelli
(Dalkey Archive Press, July 2006)

I picked up this book for totally non-content-related reasons: because I'd been invited to the author's book party; because Chad, our rep from Dalkey Archive, sent me a galley and is a super nice guy; because I'd been told that Mark Binelli lives in the neighborhood and wrote most of the book in the McNally Robinson café / tea house. And the first thing I did was turn to the author interview in the back, figuring I could cheat a little and still look respectably interested in the book.

But Binelli's explanation of what he was trying to do with this book sucked me right in. I turned back to the beginning and started reading, and I didn't pick up another book for a week. I bothered the ALP with endless stories and quotations from S&V, missed subway stops, and found myself thinking about anarchists and stand-up comedians far more often than usual.

Because this turns out to be one of my favorite kinds of books, the genre-bending, pop-culture referencing, intellectually challenging, roller coaster alternate history, with slapstick. (Ah, you're right – this is actually probably the only one of its kind.) The Sacco and Vanzetti of the title are not exactly the Italian anarchists executed after a famously xenophobic trial in the 1920s. They are, rather, an early film comedy team in the style of Abbot and Costello, the Three Stooges, or the Marx Brothers. Sacco is the fat one (of course), given to creating chaos whenever possible, and Vanzetti is the straight man, the serious one, the ideologue.

The story unfolds in slapstick movie scenes, interviews, and historical asides. As Binelli states in the interview, "I took cartoonish movie characters and tried to make them somewhat 'real,' but neglected to remove them from their cartoonish movie scenarios." It's extremely unclear where S&V's real life ends and their movies begin – and increasingly, as the book goes on, where the fictional S&V end and their historical counterparts begin. Because isn't slapstick obviously akin to anarchy? – all that upsetting fancy dinner parties, hassling cops, blowing things up, victory to the underdog. And as Binelli makes clear, there's also a similarity between the entertainer and the ideologue: someone who, in the name of their cause or their art, is willing to live a fairly miserable day-to-day existence because something great is (maybe) going to come out of it.

This book is fun to talk about for its sophisticated themes – art & its sacrifices, racial stereotypes and comedy, the line between being a victim of capitalism and deciding to blow things up – but it's fun to read for its details – pie fights, knife juggling acts, the funeral of Laurence Olivier with the great comedians of the '20s as pallbearers. As you might have guessed, I'm a big fan. Mark Binelli, as it turns out, is also a really nice guy, and a really promising first-time novelist. Check this one out when it's published in July – you'll be as surprised, intrigued, and entertained as I was.