Thursday, November 30, 2006

An update, sort of

Blogger is updating, and so am I. Sort of. From now on, I'm going to double post both to Wordwright, and a shadow site in the new Blogger beta at

As soon as Blogger lets me, I'll merge the sites, so that you can get all your up-to-date, techie-friendly Wordwright goodness in the same place.

Oh, and by the way, let me know if you like the red or blue better.

Because, really, 100 is a little much

The NYT Book Review culls their list of Notable Books down to the Ten Best of 2006.

I'm a bit surprised to see Ford on the 10 best. I've been reading mixed reviews of The Lay of the Land. (Although, since ford is an MSU alum, I do have the book on my shelf.) I'm excited to see Amy Hempel's stories. (I've kept myself, thus far, from from mentioning that Rick Moody wrote the introduction.) I've gazed lovingly at the hardcover, but have been waiting for the paperback. Maybe if I can still find a first edition on the shelf after the holidays, I'll go ahead and pick it up. Absurdistan is my Kafka on the Shore for this year. I've heard good things about it, and even dipped my toe into it, but it just doesn't sing to me.

Anyone feel like handicapping the Pulitzers? PoN, I'm looking at you.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A promised revisiting

I promised a few days ago that I would get back to the NYT Book Review's year-end list of Notable Books.

I'm actually more enthusiastic about this year's list than I was last year. I already have four of them on my shelf (thanks, Laura K. for the Edward P. Jones stories!), and there are at least six more that I'd like to pick up by the time they come out in paperback. (I feel compelled to mention that, like last year, I haven't even looked at the nonfiction portion of the list.)

A couple of old MSU alums have new books out: Richard Ford's third Frank Bascombe novel, The Lay of the Land, and Thomas McGuane's second collection of stories, Gallatin Canyon. Nell Freudenberger follows up her very good 2003 collection of stories Lucky Girls with her debut novel The Dissident. Thomas Pynchon, Colson Whitehead, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy all have new novels. Amy Hempel and Joyce Carol Oates both have career-spanning collected stories volumes.

Finally, The Keep by Jennifer Egan, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky, and The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits may not have interested me enough to merit $25 for a hardcover, but I may keep my eyes open for them at the library. (Glancing at the nonfiction list, I've read enough of Jonathan Franzen and Bill Buford's new books when sections appeared in the New Yorker that I may pick them up in paperback.)

Wow, that's compared to what, four books that I was interested in last year?

Oh, and while they may not have made the NYT Book Review's list, I would be remiss if I were to fail to mention Revelator's two titles to date: Michael Duncan's collection Line Jester & Other Stories, in which he combines strains of Sartre and Borges with a comtemporary fabulist ethic, and Andrew Hungerford's dreamy, searching one-act play Between the Water and the Air. Both are available for free download at Revelator, and are well worth a read.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Since when does Wordwright write about football?

Gene Wojciechowski whines about the BCS and a likely OSU/USC matchup on January 8.

Now let me start by saying that I'm not a big fan of the BCS, but not for the reasons that you usually hear. I don't think that an undisputed national champion in NCAA Dvision I football is possible, or necessary, every year. As a Big Ten fan, I miss the tradition of the Rose Bowl—the game that every Big Ten team used to play for every year, where the reward for winning the Big Ten was a matchup with the champion of the Pac 10. I hate this crazy system now where every five years the Rose Bowl is the National Championship game, and the crazy matchups when it's not.

That being said, I think a Michigan/Ohio State matchup for a national championship on January 8 would be a waste. Why? Because they've already played, and we already have a winner. I think the a good argument can be made that Michigan, even with the loss to OSU, is still the second best team in the nation, but I don't see why they should get a winner-take all rematch. If U of M and OSU were to play again, and Michigan were to win, then Michigan would take the National Championship over a team with an identical final 12-1 record. One win for Michigan, one win for OSU. That sounds like the essence of a shared national title to me. (If anything, it seems to me that Michigan should have to win twice to really earn the trophy, and that isn't the way football works.)

Michigan had their chance. Let USC take their turn.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Quick update

The NYT Book Review has posted its annual list of notable books. I'll comment on it a little later. I've got turkey to eat.

Monday, November 20, 2006

My new metric: the Mean Bond Rating

I apparently spend a great deal of my recreational browsing time at Entertainment Weekly's online site. (After all, it was a little more than a week ago that I found out how Batman votes thanks to Anyway, prompted by the new Bond movie, Casino Royale, ranked each of the previous Bond movies, from best to worst.

As I am wont to do, I decided to take the idea a step further. After all, if we have a numeric ranking of the Bond movies, it's not too hard to come up with a system to rank each of the actors who have played Bond—a Mean Bond Rating, or MBR. (I gave each Bond performance a declining number of points based on each movie's ranking—20 points for #1, 19 points for #2, etc.—added each actor's totals together and divided by the number of Bond movies that actor has made.) Calculating an MBR based on EW's ranking yields some surprising results: the actor with the highest MBR is George Lazenby, whose 16 edges out Sean Connery's 15.67. Pierce Brosnan comes in third with a 10.25, with Roger Moore close behind at 8. Timothy Dalton is the clear loser with an embarrassing 3.5.

Of course, Lazenby almost has to be treated as a bit of an outlier, since his rating is based on a single performance. Had Connery not returned to play Bond in the stinker Diamonds Are Forever, then his MBR would have been 16.8. It may seem unfair to penalize Connery, who by EW's count, made three of the best five Bond films, and five of the best ten (especially since he only made 6 Bond films, unless of course you count Never Say Never Again, which I don't and neither does EW), but Diamonds is really a stain on Connery's record as Bond (so, come to think of it, is NSNA).

On the other hand. I don't entirely agree with EW's rankings. They get a lot right—I think, on the whole, that we can agree that Connery's Bond corpus is better than any other actor's—but, as with any so subjective a ranking, there are some idiosyncrasies. Live and Let Die at number 3? From Russia With Love only number 8? I know everyone hates Timothy Dalton, but was The Living Daylights really worse than A View To a Kill? I decided that some re-ranking was in order.

  1. Goldfinger—really, the perfect Bond movie
  2. From Russia With Love—my favorite Bonds are the ones where he's more of a spy than a superhero. In FRWL, Bond uses his seductive wiles to turn a double agent and obtain a code machine. Essential spycraft.
  3. The Living Daylights—seemingly alone, I love this film. It's a return to basics after the worst of the Moore years, and involves at least basic spycraft again. Also interesting for an almost un-Bond-like awareness of realpolitik in its use of the Afghan mujahedeen.
  4. GoldenEye—again, Bond seems to benefit from periodic fresh blood. Brosnan's first Bond is the one that really works. The "GoldenEye" is only just beyond technological possibility, and Sean Bean is excellent as 006.
  5. Thunderball—a bit over the top for me, but iconic. This is the Bond film that all the other films parody.
  6. Dr. No—Bond before he was Bond. (See my comment on real spycraft.) When Bond arrives in Jamaica, he shields his face with his hat to keep someone from taking his picture. That moment makes the movie for me. Too often in later Bonds, everyone seems to know exactly who he is. How can you be a secret agent if you're not a secret?
  7. You Only Live Twice—this one pushes it for me. The "I'm Japanese, really" makeup on Bond is, uhm, laughable.
  8. For Your Eyes Only—the best of the worst. We'll ignore Bibi Dahl and focus on the fact that Moore's Bond is chasing a code machine. (Read: real spycraft.)
  9. Moonraker—actually I kind of like this one. Bond in space is really silly, and oh! Jaws finds a girl! But Drax just works for me.
  10. On Her Majesty's Secret Service—you know, I hate Telly Savalas as Blofeld (actually, I hate most of the Blofelds—he's better when you can't see his face). Still Bond meets his match in Mrs. Peel. Much better than Patrick Macnee's turn in A View To a Kill.
  11. Die Another Day—better than your average Brosnan outing, but that isn't saying much. Rosamund Pike makes this film for me.
  12. Diamonds Are Forever—ugh. Just ugh. Connery's Bond starts to feel old. If only they hadn't tried to fix the problem by bringing in Roger Moore, who started out old and finished decrepit.
  13. The Spy Who Loved Me—I'm not actually going to comment on all the Moore Bonds. I have better things to do.
  14. The Man With the Golden Gun
  15. Live and Let Die—awful. Just awful. And racist to boot, not only in Mr. Big, but the hick southern cops.
  16. Tomorrow Never Dies—why not? We'd be better off if it did. And I usually like Jonathan Pryce.
  17. Octopussy
  18. Licence To Kill—one of the few Bond movies where Bond looks bad in a tux. And what's with the "come on groom, let's go bust a drug ring, your bride won't mind" scene? Benicio Del Toro can't save this film, and neither can Law & Order's most forgettable assistant DA.
  19. A View To a Kill—remember what I said about Connery being old in Diamonds? In this one, Roger Moore looks like he's on life support. And why would you have (an also very old) John Steed play Bond's sidekick if you're just going to kill him off?
  20. The World Is Not Enough—really, sometimes it is. What a waste. All around.

Thus, by my system, each actor's Bond ratings are as follows:

If you ask me, that seems just about right.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Awards season: part 2 and a schedule

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers has won the National Book Award.

In a measure of how far I've drifted from the bookstore world, I know absolutely nothing about this book (except, of course, who Richard Powers is, but that almost doesn't count). In all truth, I haven't really been excited about a National Book Award winner since The Corrections in 2001. (A complete list of winners is available here.)

The National Book Critics Circle will announce the finalists for its 2006 award in January, and the winner in March. The Pulitzer winner and finalists will be annouced simultaneously in April. The PEN/Faulkner award will be announced in May. (Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel in October.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Checking in

What's today, the 10th? That should mean I'm at nearly 17,000 words? Alright, let's run a word count and the official total is. . . uhm. . . 745 words.

Still, that's better than I've done in the past several months, so we'll keep going with it. 50,000 words by the 30th? Not likely. A script and a story? That's still possible.

Anyway, to make up for my absence and inactivity, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Gavin's theory of Borat.

No, I haven't actually seen the movie, but I've seen the Borat segments from the Ali G. Show and a lot of the in-character publicity interviews, which have been weird in and of themselves. The general theory of Borat is that Sacha Baron Cohen uses the character to dupe people into revealing their own prejudices, and we're invited to both laugh at their gullibility, and be disturbed at how easy it is to get people to assent to or express opinions that we generally pretend don't exist in our modern, enlightened society.

So what happens when someone is in on the joke? (Salon's Video Dog feature has a good archive of Borat press interviews here.) The general impression seems to have been that once everyone knows what's going on, that everything is all in good fun, and we get to laugh at Cohen's insistence on inhabiting a ridiculous character. I think this is too simplistic.

Cohen knows that he'll never be able to do the Borat character after this movie. Supposedly all the people now interviewing Borat are "in on the joke." Except they're not. They're laughing at an offensive Kazakh stereotype. So while Borat was a tool Cohen used to point out anti-semitism in people who weren't in on the joke, he's now pointing out a similar provincialism and racism in people who laugh at the extended "idiot foreigner" routine.

The only other option is that he doesn't realize or care that he's inhabiting stereotypes. And if that's the case, then there's no way to justify laughing at Borat at all. Because he's just a minstrel show.

I don't think the second possibility is all that likely, but I'm surprised that no one is talking about it. It feels to me kind of like Chappelle exiting Chappelle's Show because he started to wonder about who was watching and laughing at his show. It isn't supposed to be easy to laugh at Chappelle or Cohen. They aren't trying to make you feel good. The more time Andy Kaufman spent inhabiting a character, the more the joke was on his audience.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing Borat. But think before you start to sing along with "Throw the Jew Down the Well" on the soundtrack.

2. Hey, so Democrats can win elections after all.

Good on them. Still, it's worth checking out how your favorite superhero may have voted. (Via Entertainment Weekly, of all places.)

And that's 500 more words. That totally counts. :-)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Argh. Blah. Argh.

I was all set to write a post today apologizing for my absence as I went full-bore into National Novel Writing Month over the next several weeks. And what happens? My daughter gives me the worst cold I've had in a long time.

Not a great start to a 50,000 word month, but I haven't given up yet. I'll keep you up to date.