by Dennis Lehane, November 5, 2010 11:20 AM
Now that this is my last post, I gotta say this blogging thing is hard. It's like being a DJ — not a club DJ but a radio DJ where the only product you're bringing to the table is your own voice to send out into the ether. I'm just not interesting enough to do that, I've now conclusively realized. Probably why I like hiding behind a cloak of fiction. I know how to tell stories; I'm not sure I know how to fill dead air with non-fiction or autobiography or opinion or, I dunno, non-storytelling stuff. I'm going to go out pseudo-High Fidelity
style, with an arbitrary list:
- Album that really holds up even though the band has jumped the shark: A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay
- Best album by a band I haven't heard anything from since: Anytown Graffitti by Pela
- Best rock piano on a recent album: Stay Positive by The Hold Steady
- Worst decision by a rock band, 2010: The Hold Steady releasing an album after parting ways with their piano player
- Most interesting celebrity implosion: Randy Moss, Charlie Sheen (tie)
- Thing I most want to see before I die: The Pyrenées
- Thing I least want to see before I die: Brett Favre's iPhoto collection
- Crime movie of the year: The Town
- Romantic movie of the year: The Secret in Their Eyes
- WTF (?) movie of the year: Splice
- Movie of the year: Winter's Bone
- Best non-fiction book about the post-9-11 world: The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
- Book you haven't read that you should: Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
- Author you haven't read who you should: Daniel Woodrell
- Book you've heard is great but unless you've actually read it you don't know how great: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
- Internal organs most worthy of study for the future of the human race: Keith Richards's lungs, heart, liver, and
by Dennis Lehane, November 4, 2010 10:27 AM
I knew a writer once who said he imagined critics' faces when he went to the gun range. He went on to say that negative reviews took food from his children's mouths. Which begged the question, If a bad review steals food from your table, does a good review put the food back on? And do you then send a check to the positive reviewer? And would it be a check for regular supermarket prices or, like, Whole Foods?
We're losing critics left and right, just like we're losing newspapers left and right, and good journalists left and right, and I don't think any of it's a positive. An intelligent, non-snarky, articulate critic adds value to the culture. I've gotten slammed by critics I respect and thanked them for keeping me honest. I've gotten raves that meant nothing to me because they came from morons. Or from people who clearly hadn't read the book. (And that is the one type of critic I do reserve my contempt for. Not go-to-the-gun-range contempt but wouldn't-shake-your-hand contempt. If you get paid to do a job, you should do that which you took someone's money to do.)
But critics who give a book the respect of a tough, rigorous read and then return to camp with word of what they saw shouldn't be blamed for saying they've seen better. Shutter Island, the movie, was savaged by a prominent critic who clearly wasn't a fan of the source-referential homage quality that I employed in the book and Scorsese employed in the movie. Shutter Island is a book about books, essentially, and the movie is a movie about movies. The critic in question clearly hated movies about movies. Which I respect even if, in my particular case, I disagreed for obvious reasons. But his case was cogent and exceptionally well-argued. So at the end of the day, you shake hands and say, "Can't please all the people all the time. Maybe you'll like the next one. Peace."
I recently pissed off another critic whose skin I seem to get under like a splinter. And on one hand, I was ecstatic because the critic is a fearless standard bearer for mediocrity whose sensibilities I'm more than happy to offend, but then I got deflated because upon a closer reading, it became blatantly apparent that she hadn't even read the book. Sigh.
At the end of the day, I probably don't mind critics much because I spent six years in writing workshops where 10 to 15 people tear into your work. Two or three times a semester. For an hour. To your face. And have arguments like, "Well, I didn't think it sucked just because the prose was turgid. I mean, the prose was turgid, but I thought it really sucked because the characters were so poorly drawn." This the workshopee must weather silently, whilst taking notes (or pretending to). If you can handle six years of that, not pleasing a stranger at a keyboard doesn't weigh on you all that heavily.
Off the gun range
by Dennis Lehane, November 3, 2010 7:55 AM
Now that the elections are over, can the rage go away for awhile and take the rampant oversimplification of complex issues with it? That'd be really cool. I don't remember things ever being this divisive but then I haven't lived terribly long in a 24 hour news circus where the media trots out only the extremists to frame the debate. It feel like there's this country we used to be, and it's not the idealized Father-Knows-Best-lily-white-America thing the right seems to yearn for, it's just a place where things were a bit more civil.
Forget alcohol and crank and pot, the new national addiction seems to be to vitriol. Or maybe it's not. Maybe that's just the media ginning up the extremes to make things seem more divisive than they are. Makes for a solid dramatic narrative, I guess, and that's what the media seems to have become ? dispensers of narrative. Which is funny because I thought that was the fiction writer's job. I keep thinking of that great speech Albert Brooks gives in Broadcast News when he's trying to convince Holly Hunter that she's falling for William Hurt only because he's pretty and facile, not because there's any substance there, which is a perfect metaphor for modern news:
"I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil. What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance...Just a tiny bit.. . .And he'll get all the great women."
by Dennis Lehane, November 2, 2010 3:33 PM
Been on a reading/watching/listening tear lately because I’m solo which makes me cranky unless I’m occupying my mind in other ways. When it comes to books, I usually like any book I finish, not because I have no critical acumen but because if I don’t like a book, I never get past the first 50 pages. Some of the ones I’ve finished recently include Freedom
by Jonathan Franzen, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
by Tom Franklin, Fall of Giants
by Ken Follett, Life
by Keith Richards, Galveston
by Nic Pizzolatto (the coolest noir I’ve read in a decade; I tell everyone about this book), and The Red Thread
by Ann Hood. I also read a really kick-ass book in manuscript called Before I Go to Sleep
by S. J. Watson, whom I’ve never heard of before. The book’s like Memento
on crystal meth. I don’t know when it’s being released, though.
TV-wise, I recently got sucked into the first season of In Treatment, which is so not something I thought I’d get caught up in. From the outside, it looked like a navel-gazing, self-absorption-palooza, and at times, yeah, it kinda is. At its worst, it’s like watching 43 episodes of the movie Closer. But the vast majority of the time, it dodges that bullet and it becomes a fascinating trip through the psyches of six patients, their therapist, and their therapist’s therapist. And the acting is about 20 levels beyond what you normally get, even in great TV. Three hundred sixty degrees from that is The Walking Dead, which my wife refuses to believe is great. (She’ll roll with sensitive vampires but finds nothing sexy in flesh-eating undead people; I don’t get it.) But, man, the pilot just blew me out the back of my living room. Just when I was thinking there was going to be a long desert between the end of Mad Men and the start of the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, I got surprised by a rip-roaring, gory as all hell zombie show.
Musically, I’ve been into The National in a way I thought would subside by now but, no, it’s still going strong. I like writing to them, like having them on when I’m putzing around the house, even in the car, where I normally like stuff that I can jack the speakers to and get yet another in an illustrious line of speeding tickets. (American Idiot, for example, has not left one of the slots in my CD player for over five years.) I have no idea what’s in the water in Brooklyn these days but that area is just producing great band after great. Besides The National, it gave us The Hold Steady, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and TV on the Radio, and those are just the ones I’m remembering off the top of my head. So I’ll never be a Yankees fan, but I’ve got much love for Brooklyn. Otherwise, I’ve been into Florence & the Machine, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Santogold, and the soundtrack to The Social Network because I’m a total Trent Reznor geek.
by Dennis Lehane, November 1, 2010 11:54 AM
The book tour starts tomorrow, except it doesn't because tomorrow's an election day, so the tour really starts Wednesday, though the book
comes out on Tuesday. I've never quite figured out why books, CDs, and DVDs come out on Tuesday but movies come out on Friday (and occasionally Wednesday) but never on a Monday, which is when hairdressers are closed (but not barbershops). But I digress (never a rarity)...
So I'm blogging and it feels weird. I've never blogged or tweeted or gone on Facebook (though my wife tells me it's quite nice). I don't even play video games. I am to computers what an abacus is to the NASA mainframe. I own a Mac specifically because Macs are designed, at a base level, for morons. And I am that moron. So thanks for putting up with me as I enter the cyber world.
My 10th book tour. Book tours are weird beasts. They beat the ever-living hell out of working for a living, and it rocks to meet anyone who takes the time to buy your book, read your book, and who thinks so much of your efforts that they leave their home to meet you in person. No matter how jaded I could get about anything else in my life, I could never get jaded about that phenomenon — people read my stuff and show up in person to tell me they enjoyed it. Takes the top of my head off every time I pause to think about. No higher honor in this profession, I swear.
Unfortunately, my toddler doesn't understand that. She's just pissed I'm gone and not playing R. L. Burnside and Arcade Fire for her. Or reading to her. Or firing up the Elmo videos. If I could teleport from bookstore to bookstore, do like five states in a day, I'd hit every bookstore in America. But the travel is, in its current 2010 state, displacing at both a physical and a mental level. You stop feeling like yourself after maybe three or four stops and you become this weird alterna-you that exists in the margins of atmosphere in airports and cabs and hotel bars. You're that little blinky thing that snaps out of the corner of Edward Norton's eyes in Fight Club. Or you're George Clooney in Up in the Air without the benefit of being, you know, George Clooney. Then you go back to a hotel room and watch On-Demand because baseball season is over except in northern California and Texas. I never go to movie theaters for months before a tour because I want to be able to watch a movie in the hotel that I haven't seen before. Unfortunately, even if I didn't have a tour, I wouldn't have gone to the movies because most everything this summer looked pretty sucky (except for Winter's Bone, which was a masterpiece.) So, I dunno, Predators, anyone?
But then someone's going to come up to me in a bookstore and ask me to sign a falling-apart copy of one of my books, the binding all bent, the pages thumbed soft from re-reading or from being passed through the hands of an entire family, and it's all worth it. Even the two hours I lost on Predators.