The Unread Book List Of Shame

August 27th, 2012 | stuff2012

I am writing this list in order to shame myself into doing better.

I have obtained a pile (for values of “pile,” as most are electronic) of books over the last several months that for many and various (bad) reasons I haven’t yet read.  I need to fix this.  Not least because I need to add some more into the stream (ooh, “stream,” much better than “pile”) right now and doing that without processing what’s already in the stream is very bad and you get the idea.

In no order, and probably not complete:

* Jeff Noon’s CHANNEL SK1N

* TRIBAL PEOPLES FOR TOMORROW’S WORLD by Stephen Corry.

* ANGELMAKER, Nick Harkaway.

* HOW TO TEACH QUANTUM PHYSICS TO YOUR DOG, Chad Orzel

* BACKROOM BOYS, Francis Spufford

* DEAD WATER, Simon Ings

* HIGH LIFE, Matthew Stokoe (I think Frankie Boyle recommended me this)

* RATNER’S STAR, Don Delillo

* MURDER AS A FINE ART, David Morrell

* THE FORBIDDEN BOOK, Guido Mina di Sospiro & Joscelyn Godwin

* THE RELIGION OF THE SAMURAI, Kaiten Nukariya

* TOPLOADER, Ed O’Loughlin

* THE GIFT OF STONES, Jim Crace

* EMBASSYTOWN, China Mieville

This is basically appalling, and I need to do better.

Also why the fuck cannot I buy ebooks of Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre?  Seriously.

(He said, having just listed all the books he’s failed to read in the last four months.)

I nearly used a collaborative app, like Well, to list these, but I was suddenly horrified at the thought of people being able to add to the list.

My public email address is warrenellis@gmail.com, and I’m @warrenellis .

#informationdiet


Some Notes On THE NEWSROOM

June 24th, 2012 | stuff2012

 

 

That was pretty unfair of me.  But I watched the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new show, THE NEWSROOM, the other day, and it really did strike me as STUDIO 60: Phase Two.

Some wags have suggested that I actually mean SPORTS NIGHT: Phase Four, but I don’t think that’s true. SPORTS NIGHT flirted with the ethics of reportage, but in a more personal way.  WEST WING was a paean to public service, but much more of a complete statement, despite Sorkin taking off at the end of the fourth season.

But STUDIO 60… using the backstage workings of a live comedy tv show to address both the trouble that American tv is in, and the trouble that American culture is in.  Sorkin got cut short on that show, and, quite clearly, never got to say everything he wanted to say.  And, perhaps, it wasn’t the best vehicle for delivering all the stuff that’s currently in his system.

And now, THE NEWSROOM: a vehicle for fully expressing everything he wanted to talk about in STUDIO 60, but in a more culturally “heavyweight” setting.  At least notionally.  And if you liked STUDIO 60, or wanted to see what more he had to say after that show’s cancellation, you’ll have a pretty good time with THE NEWSROOM.  It’s, obviously, a consummately craftsmanlike piece of television writing, and if you liked the casting and the gags on SPORTS NIGHT and STUDIO 60, you’ll probably like THE NEWSROOM just fine.

It opens, as STUDIO 60 did, with an elder man (in this instance, the protagonist, newsreader Will McAvoy) losing his shit in public in the mode of Peter Finch in NETWORK, the rant about how the culture is terrible being the engine of the show.  But there’s something a little different in this.  In talking about how ill-informed the American public is, McAvoy summons the memory of “great men” who told it like it was, Murrow and Cronkite.  Not great journalists.  Not even great newscasters.  Great Men.

That was the first of three things that really leapt out at me during this show.  The second was at the end, when I discovered that this show is actually set a couple of years ago, and what it’s positioned to do is illustrate how the American news media should have covered a string of real-life events.  It’s actually an alternate history.

(I’m reminded suddenly of a comment I made after I read the script, to the effect that the show was a televisual fantasy exploring the idea of whether or not Jeremy Paxman could get work in America.)

The third was all over the show, and is related to the first.  It doesn’t like women very much.  The female lead, Mackenzie, while described by someone else as having scars from covering Shiite protests and the like (but it’s Great Men who do the great work and Christiane Amanpour was certainly never on the ground for the siege of Sarajevo), is first described to us by two Great Men as both untrustworthy and some kind of fainting ninny whom they have to bring home from the world and fan until she revives.  The question that sets off McAvoy’s rant comes from a blonde student whom McAvoy also calls a “sorority girl” once or twice during the bit.

(I’m not counting as cruelty the fact that the gifted Alison Pill seems essentially cast as a stand-in for Janel Moloney – just the way her character is treated — but I thought it was a shame that we don’t really get to see the fire and bite she can produce.)

(I also don’t want to get into the frankly stupid interview Aaron Sorkin gave to Sarah Nicole Prickett, in which he is reported as addressing her with “Listen here, Internet girl…” This is too long already.  But read it.  It speaks quite directly to the tone of the show.)

But I wanted this to be a brief note, not a lecture or a drone strike, so let me just circle around to the first thing again.  That this is a show about A Great Man (or, if you like, as others have styled it, A Great White Man) allowing a team of women and less-than-classically-masculine men aid him in his crusade to Fix TV Journalism, Fix Reportage and Fix America.  In an alternate world, where, in the pilot episode, the work of many many journalists across the world is condensed into an hour’s placing of phone calls from the newsroom.  Sure, it’s fiction, there’s license, I get that, I do it all the time (TRANSMETROPOLITAN is nothing but a fantasia of journalism)… it’s just lousy coincidence that I’m currently reading a book about the BP oil spill that forms the news event of the pilot episode, a book which illustrates how much is still not commonly known about that event even today.  Hindsight lets Sorkin cheat (and I’m not going to spoil the big cheat for you, but you’ll know it when you see it and it’s a cynical “must invent shit to compress events for drama” cheat), and, unfortunately, that and the obvious triumphal applause at the end of the bit are going to give a lot of people clubs to beat him with.

And those aren’t the clubs that I think may well put THE NEWSROOM to death.  A death I take no pleasure in, because I loved THE WEST WING and I like living in a world where Aaron Sorkin is writing for television.  I think it would be really nice if, over the course of the run, Aaron Sorkin learned some things about how journalism happens and put them into the show.  I take no issue with the pilot episode’s lack of nuance, or the fact that it’s a polemic.

But, as a middle-aged white man, I take issue with the notion that it takes a Great White Man to fix the culture, and that shitting on every woman in the room to do it is just quirky, grumpy collateral damage.  I’m pretty sure that’s been tried, over here in the real world.  And here we are.


RARE EARTH by Paul Mason

June 6th, 2012 | stuff2012

I read this book in two sittings – half on the train ride out to Hay, half on the train ride back.  Paul Mason is the economics editor for BBC Newsnight.  You might expect a novel by that person to be as sober and measured as that programme.  It’s really, really not.  A pissed hack in the last extremis of anything that can be called “reporting” in commercial broadcasting, trying and failing to add heft to a doomed shoot in China, trips over the worst thing he could possibly encounter: an actual story.  And that’s when things get weird.

What I really liked about this book is its refusal to do anything easy.  Even what seems like the looming obligatory “creepy vicarious sex scene” sex scene turns into a hilarious nightmare that sees said pissed hack kicked half to death for his uselessness.

At the heart of it all is an attempt to understand China: or, at least an attempt to define the reasons why the West so consistently fails to understand China.

 

It does that by embracing the surreality of life there – teasing out the strangenesses until the real things present as so goddamn weird that the inventions appear grounded by comparison.  And every element, and more or less every character, reveals its true nature by stages. 

I don’t want to rattle on – these are supposed to be quick notes – but I had a lot of fun with this odd, clever little book.  I think that if you in general like my stuff, you’d find a lot to enjoy in RARE EARTH.

You can read a preview chunk of the book at the publisher’s website.  You can find Paul on Twitter @paulmasonnews.


Leyfdu Ljosinu

May 14th, 2012 | stuff2012

The new record by Hildur Gudnadottir is remarkable.  It was recorded as a single live performance, with no post-production tampering – all the sound treatment happened in-performance.

Imagine a space between Zoe Keating’s driftier experiments and Julianna Barwick’s surreal single-voice choruses.  It’s an incredibly beautiful, weightless piece of music that develops less like a composition and more like a weather system.  I’ve listened to it a few times a day for a few days, and am still finding new cloud formations in it.

 

Among many other places, it can be purchased from the label.


Mark Dery’s I MUST NOT THINK BAD THOUGHTS

May 10th, 2012 | stuff2012

This is an absolute treasure trove of the disturbing and enlightening.  Mark Dery (remember the term “culture jamming”?  That was him), in this sequence of gorgeously written essays, surrounds something he conceives of as the “pathological sublime” in American culture.

A score-settling excoriation on how virulent, cackling old Mark Twain’s reputation has been given a sentimental cleanse actually stakes out Dery’s perimeters for a new American Gothic.  A deceptively amiable consideration of Lady Gaga puts her permanently outside Dery’s dark velvet ropes.

And then he’s off on foot through the trees, sending off great bursts of searing tracer fire in pursuit of, not just the strange, but also of the fake weird, removing the dressing and bullshit from the stark landscape of the deeply odd American experiment.  For Dery, that seems to be the real America, and he loves it dearly, in all its glorious horror.

amazon.comamazon.co.uk