Top 10 books of the “season”

Trade publication Publishers Weekly recently released its top 10 debut novels of the season (what season? Summer? Baseball? Debutante?). Many have late 2009/early 2010 release dates, so keep an eye out for them for future book-club planning. Mom, this means you. Also, in an effort not to infringe on any copyrights (and to add some spice to my day), I’m only giving 6-word descriptions of each book.

1. A Glass of Water, by Jimmy Santiago Baca (Grove Press, Oct.). Undocumented Mexican immigrants struggle in US.

2. Blacklands, by Belinda Bauer (S & S, Jan.). Boy + serial killer = pen pals = dangerous.

3. Moonlight in Odessa, by Janet Skeslien Charles (Bloomsbury, Sept.). All about Russian e-mail-order brides.

4. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow (Algonquin, Feb.). Am I black or white?

5. Union Atlantic, by Adam Haslett (Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, Jan.). Four faces give depth to financial world.

6. The Calligrapher’s Daughter, by Eugenia Kim (Henry Holt, Sept.). Young woman in Japanese-occupied Korea.

7. Mathilda Savitch, by Victor Lodato (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Sept.). Teen girl unravels beloved sister’s death.

8. Rizzo’s War, by Lou Manfredo (Minotaur Books, Oct.). Old cop, new cop, dirty tricks.

9. The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime, Oct.). Former IRA hitman haunted by past.

10. The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight, by Gina Ochsner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Feb.). Bridget Jones in post-Soviet Russia?

(This is a stretch.)

Fun fact: Average age of debut author (out of 8 authors — two ages not given): 49.

The team at Amazon also named their favorite books of the “season,” aka new releases from January-July 2009. Check out their picks here.

Putting the “fun” in “funemployment”

One of the latest pop words to enter our lexicon is “funemployment” — that period of time when the newly unemployed, typically single and in their 20s and 30s, embrace their excess free time like a drunk man hugging an empty keg. One guy told the Los Angeles Times that after being laid off by Yahoo, he planned to “go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas.” After all, there’s only so much job hunting you can do in one day. For those buoyed by buyouts and looking to enjoy all the recession has given them, this band is for you: fun.

That’s what it’s called. fun.  fun

With its debut album, Aim and Ignite, set to launch Aug. 25, this New York trio introduces itself as Silver Lining Incarnate, with singles like “At Least I’m Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)” and “Walking the Dog” set to be anthems for the funemployed in their never-ending summer. The lyrics are more bittersweet than bubblegum — in “Walking the Dog,” heartbreak lingers, though “It’s not like the movies/ it’s not all skin and bones.”  Rich vocals and soaring melodies give the entire experience a singalong, “aw, what the hell!” feeling, leaving you thinking that maybe losing your job was the best thing that ever happened to you.

Give fun a shot. They’ll probably be in a city near you soon — they’re playing Seattle at Chop Suey on Aug. 25 (my birthday!). http://www.ournameisfun.com

(Thanks to Norm for the heads-up.)

“Journalism Bust, J-school Boom”

This article has prompted a pretty lengthy discussion on one of my alumni email lists. Then that discussion migrated to the Huffington Post. Apparently, as print journalism suffers and reporters lose jobs by the truckload, journalism school applications have gone through the roof. Some argue that we should trim the number of spots in a journalism school to keep new graduates from flooding an already strapped market. I contend that stymieing opportunity will lead to less innovation. If there was every a time for someone with a computer science background to teach at J-school, this is it. We need people to create the new forum for news dissemination. Will that happen at J-schools, or at established publications? Or at Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft? Any thoughts?

Recession-proof: The Bard

In 1594, England suffered the first of five bad harvests – prompting the beginning of a paralyzing economic recession – and endured another outbreak of the bubonic plague. Sounds like fun, right?

Take note, Recession Renaissance unbelievers: In the early 1590s, even when London’s theaters were closed to prevent further spread of the plague, William Shakespeare was credited with the creation of his earliest works – histories Richard III and Henry VI, and tragedy Titus Andronicus. Some contend he also wrote The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1594. The next decade (1595-1605) was his most prolific, with more than 20 plays written, including some of his most beloved: Romeo and Juliet (1594-5), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-6), Hamlet (1600-01), Othello (1604), King Lear and Macbeth (both 1605-06). [Source: The New York Times’ Guide to Essential Knowledge. See Charlene, I use it!]

Admittedly, debate ensues over whether Shakespeare even wrote these plays, but for the sake of argument, let’s agree that they exist and came from around this time period. I can’t think of a better example of something good coming from such a rotten time. Except for maybe the new $.89 burrito at Taco Bell.

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As we sludge through our own recession, I recommend holing up in a dark theater or on a park lawn with a picnic and watching a summer production of Shakespeare. It helps take the edge off things. In Seattle, the Bard is in abundance: the Seattle Shakespeare Company is putting on free performances of The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III around King County through Aug. 2 — check the website for details. Non-profit Seattle’s Shakespeare in the Park is throwing down some kind of turf war by also putting on free performances around the area, through Aug. 15, of The Comedy of Errors and King John.

othello_0

Not so free, but definitely worth noting: Intiman Theatre (near the Seattle Center) is currently hosting Theatre for a New Audience’s production of Othello until Aug. 2. What started as an Off Broadway show in New York is now receiving standing ovations in Seattle. At least, it did last night when I attended. I was impressed — I typically only see that when I go to my mother’s community theater performances, where the audience is 97% family and friends.

Intiman’s Othello stars Sean Patrick Thomas as the Moor, Othello — a.k.a. the guy who taught a white girl (Julia Stiles) rhythm in the movie Save the Last Dance.

2001_save_the_last_dance_007

If this performance is any indication of Thomas’s acting chops, he’s moved on considerably since then. Though he’s a few inches shorter than his on-stage love, Desdemona (played tearfully by Elisabeth Waterson), he can convey a larger presence, particularly during a scene where his jealousy sends him into an epileptic fit. He writes about so convincingly, you think he might disintegrate — just shrivel up like the Wicked Witch of the West in her final scene.

However, Othello is one of the Bard’s greatest because of the extremity of its emotions — passion, jealousy, betrayal, racism, fear. And unfortunately, this production lacks about a notch or two of intensity. It starts with a minimalist set: stark (but recession-friendly!), with a table, bed, handkerchief and basket of linens on rotation as props. From there, it walks the line, teasing with epileptic fits and haunting dirges (sung by Desdemona before her death), but ultimately not delivering the searing emotion one comes to expect from this tragedy.

In particular, I wasn’t entirely convinced of Iago’s villainy. Though the performance by classically trained actor John Campion was admirable, I couldn’t help comparing it to one I saw back in college, when “the Ancient” Iago was played by a handsome 21-year-old blond. That collegiate Iago was multidimensional, in turns both charming and dreadful, impassioned and icy cool. Simply put, he was menacing. Campion’s Iago was not. With his muddled accent, he seemed more a meddler than anything else.

There’s a talented supporting cast — extra applause goes to Robert Langdon Lloyd’s short turn as The Duke, which got some of the night’s biggest laughs, and Lucas Hall as a charmingly oblivious Cassio. All in all, it was an entertaining performance, and for any fan of Othello, one worth checking out. Tickets are $10-$55; performance runs 2 hrs 55 minutes with an intermission. http://www.intiman.org

Shakespeare always gets a thumbs-up. thumbsup

Lazy Environmentalist: “We’re all a little lazy”

There are two sides to Sundance: beautiful people congratulating themselves on their “creative genuis” in the streets of Park City, Utah, while simulating drunkeness off beer with 3.2% alcohol. And the side that smells of Robert Redford (mmm) and Earth Day — the one focusing on environmentally conscious programming, The Green, on the Sundance Channel.

New TV show “The Lazy Environmentalist” embraces the spirit of the Recession Renaissance: host Josh Dorfman visits people around America who don’t feel they have the time or resources to go green right now. He explains otherwise. Though it risks coming off as preachy, and the blatant push for sponor Clorox gets tiring, the suggestions Dorfman offers are realistic, often innovative and easy to execute. Plus, his green makeover subjects often need to learn the basics — like the family that didn’t recycle, and threw out so much garbage daily, Dad had to jump into the can to squash it down. Nice.

The show is only a few episodes old right now — so far, he’s counseled a dog groomer and a fashion stylist for emerging hip-hop stars. Dorfman himself is endearing, like a goofier Jeff Goldblum.

dorfman_lazy

Each episode is a half hour, and it’s definitely worth checking out. The show airs Tuesdays at 9pm EST on the Sundance Channel. Sundance’s blogs are also informative and a good place to get some of the latest green tech news. For all this, I give it a thumbs-up. Green thumb? Ohhh so cliched. I’ll do it anyway. logo_greenthumbsup

Pitchtopia: where writers might actually have a shot

We’re in an age when publishing has been democratized — citizen journalists and iReporters ask celebrities questions for online news sources, and anyone can self-publish a book. Just go to Amazon.com and read about their manufacturing-on-demand models. If you have something to say, you can say it! But that doesn’t mean people necessarily want to hear it.

The best new site I’ve seen to balance quality assurance with the American Dream zeal is Pitchtopia.org. This forum plans to bring writers, agents and editors together to network. Meanwhile, a Pitchtopia team will cull the ideas received and pitch the best to the editors/agents. The site’s still in the works — it launched in beta form this month, with a full launch slated for September. They’re also currently hiring to fill that Pitchtopia team (check mediabistro.com for — gasp — job openings!).

Picture 2

What I like about this site is its earnest hopefulness — Pitchtopia’s revenue is purely ad-based. They don’t get a cut if there’s an editor/writer connection, and they even use online tutorials that explain the basics of pitching book or magazine ideas. I like to imagine a group of retired professors, editors and Jewish mothers sitting around drinking tea, reading our stories and making literary love connections. Hell, I even want to try it. I already signed up!

For people who don’t know someone in the business but think they have a good story to tell, this is their site. I hope it continues to blossom this summer. For now, I give it a thumbs-up. thumbsup

Welcome…

…to my blog. Like most blogs, it’s entirely self-indulgent. I do it with the hopes that someone other than my mother will give a damn about what I have to say. I’m a professional journalist, which, I think, makes me an expert in using commas and LexisNexis. Otherwise, your opinion is just as good, if not better, than mine. On each post, I’m going to give the movie/artist/taco deal a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I want you to weigh in, too. Let’s find the best ways to spend our free time (which seems to come in bulk nowadays) and our money (which is sorely lacking).

Thanks. Game on!

Finding the best the Great Recession has to offer