The Art of The Wire at Boston Book Fair

The Boston Book Festival kicks off tomorrow with a discussion on The Art of The Wire. I’ve never been to one of these, but I’m always curious… Did The Wire just get lucky with amazingly insightful actors able to discuss race, class, institutional failure and the visual novel? These are heady topics, I wouldn’t have thought actors would generally be the best to discuss them. I don’t know who would be MORE qualified, though.

Kick off the Boston Book Festival with a thoughtful and timely exploration of The Wire with its cast and creators. Its creator, David Simon, referred to this powerful, gritty, and all-too-realistic exploration of urban poverty as a "visual novel." The Wire, perhaps the most critically-acclaimed series in television history, has been compared to Dickens, to Greek tragedy, even to Shakespearean drama. It is both high art and social commentary. Join several cast members and writer/producer George Pelecanos in a conversation about The Wire and issues of race, class, institutional failure, and the visual novel. The discussion will feature Donnie Andrews (the real "Omar"), Fran Boyd (the inspiration for David Simon’s The Corner), Tray Chaney ("Poot"), Robert Chew ("Prop Joe"), and Jamie Hector ("Marlo Stanfield") and will be moderated by Reverend Eugene Rivers, co-founder of the Ten Point Coalition.

The Art of The Wire at Boston Book Fair

Michael Lewis reviews the Twain autobiography

And it’s not pretty.

It is impossible to imagine anyone who isn’t being paid to do it reading the thing from start to finish. Even I, who still hope to be paid, hauled the book around for six months on business trips and vacations, and spent vast amounts of time staring at Twain’s random ramblings in minuscule type feeling resentful and vaguely duped—roughly the way I felt a dozen pages into the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc-before I could summon the energy to wade deeply into it.

Michael Lewis reviews the Twain autobiography

The Extra 2%

Internet good guy and friend, Jonah Keri, is out with his first book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First:

In The Extra 2%, financial journalist and sportswriter Jonah Keri chronicles the remarkable story of one team’s Cinderella journey from divisional doormat to World Series contender. When former Goldman Sachs colleagues Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman assumed control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005, it looked as if they were buying the baseball equivalent of a penny stock. But the incoming regime came armed with a master plan: to leverage their skill at trading, valuation, and management to build a model twenty-first-century franchise that could compete with their bigger, stronger, richer rivals—and prevail.

Check out an excerpt in GQ, and one on ESPN. Here’s a bit about how the Rays missed on Albert Pujols even though one of their scouts loved him and they could have gotten him for a flyer.

They still worried about the player’s build, as Jennings had earlier, and wondered what position he would play. This was especially odd, since the player didn’t get much chance to try out at third base, his natural position, or first, where Arango thought he could also fare well. Many skeptics also wondered about his age: he was born in the Dominican Republic, didn’t move to the United States until high school, and always looked old for the age he was supposed to be. Meanwhile, the player’s agent was new to the gig, and that uncertainty raised fears that just signing the guy could become dicey, even in the later rounds. Besides, the Devil Rays had their targeted names up on the draft board, and the draft was flying by. Jennings wasn’t ignoring Arango’s projection per se. There was just so much other stuff going on that they didn’t give it much thought. By the time you get past the tenth round, most players have no shot of ever sniffing the big leagues, let alone becoming productive regulars, let alone becoming the kind of superstar Arango envisioned. No big deal.

Congrats, Jonah!

The Extra 2%

Don’t contemporary book characters have iPhones?

In my best Andy Rooney voice, did you ever notice how characters in books and movies don’t use smartphones/computers/theinternets the way that people (we) normally do? This goes beyond the idea of sitcom killing cell phones, though. Think about the last contemporary book you read. Do smartphones exist in that book? Are they used in any meaningful way by the main characters?

From Where Are the iPhone Addicts and Facebook ‘Stalkers’ in Contemporary Fiction? by Joanne McNeil.

The average fictional character is either so thoroughly disinterested in email, social media, and text messages he never thinks of it, or else hastily mentions electronic communications in the past tense. Sure, characters in fiction may own smart phones, but few have the urge to compulsively play with the device while waiting to meet a friend or catch a flight. This ever-present anachronism has made it so that almost all literary fiction is science fiction, a thought experiment as to what life might be like if we weren’t so absorbed in our iPhones but instead watched and listened to the world around us at a moment’s rest.

Via The Daily Dish

Don’t contemporary book characters have iPhones?

Kurt Vonnegut in Sports Illustrated


He often said he had to be a writer because he wasn’t good at anything else. He was not good at being an employee. Back in the mid-1950s, he was employed by Sports Illustrated, briefly. He reported to work, was asked to write a short piece on a racehorse that had jumped over a fence and tried to run away. Kurt stared at the blank piece of paper all morning and then typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and walked out, self-employed again.

I looked in the SI Vault and couldn’t find anything written by Vonnegut, but this anecdote is reported widely around the web.

Maybe there will be more evidence at the memorial library opening soon in Indy.

Via Brian Sample

Kurt Vonnegut in Sports Illustrated

Bret Easton Ellis on David Foster Wallace

Tell us how you really feel, Bret.

Question: David Foster Wallace – as an American writer, what is your opinion now that he has died?

Answer: Is it too soon? It’s too soon right? Well I don’t rate him. The journalism is pedestrian, the stories scattered and full of that Mid-Western faux-sentimentality and Infinite Jest is unreadable. His life story and his battle with depression however is really quite touching…

Now this is how you hold a grudge, people. Wait until someone dies and then respond to a jab from 17 years earlier! DFW on American Psycho in 1993:

DFW: …You can see this clearly in something like Ellis’s “American Psycho”: it panders shamelessly to the audience’s sadism for a while, but by the end it’s clear that the sadism’s real object is the reader herself.

LM: But at least in the case of “American Psycho” I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict pain—or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.

DFW: You’re just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend “Psycho” as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that.

Via Sagatrope

Bret Easton Ellis on David Foster Wallace

I Write Like Analysis

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There’s this nifty tool floating around the internet the last couple days called I Write Like. You put a couple paragraphs into a box, click submit, and get the name of a famous author that you write like. I was wondering how good it was, so I spent a couple hours putting in some paragraphs of famous authors to see what I Write Like would come up with.

The results were mixed. A lot of these writers write like David Foster Wallace even if David Foster Wallace writes like Ian Fleming. I found the Project Gutenberg website with the top 100 ebooks and I Write Like did pretty well with the first couple paragraphs with most of those authors. In any case, I Write Like nailed 14 of the 30 classic authors giving it a success rate of 47%. For what it’s worth, Jersey Shore Nickname Generator is accurate 94% of the time. Note: The tool is fun. This isn’t a fair test.

James Joyce – The Dubliners is like James Joyce.
Stephen King – The Gingerbread Girl is like Dan Brown or William Gibson depending how many paragraphs you take.
William Gibson – Neuromancer is like David Foster Wallace.
David Foster Wallace – Consider the Lobster is like Ian Fleming.
Mark Twain – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is like Mark Twain.
Ambrose Bierce – An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is like Robert Louis Stephenson. This is my favorite short story, by the way.
William Faulkner – A Rose for Emily is like Margaret Mitchell.
Ernest Hemingway – Hills Like White Elephants is like Ian Fleming. I was pretty sure this one would be right.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is like H.P. Lovecraft.
H. P. Lovecraft – At the Mountains of Madness is like Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe – The Angel of the Odd is like David Foster Wallace.
J.D. Salinger РFor Esm̩ Рwith Love and Squalor is like Arthur Conan Doyle.
Arthur Conan Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is like Arthur Conan Doyle.
Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis is like James Joyce.
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson is like Robert Louis Stevenson.
William Shakespeare – Hamlet is like William Shakespeare.
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice is like Jane Austen.
Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is like Lewis Carroll.
Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo is like Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities is like Charles Dickens.
Bram Stoker – Dracula is like Bram Stoker.
H. G. Wells – The War of the Worlds, by is like H.G. Wells.
Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights is like Daniel Defoe.
Agata Christie – The Secret Adversary is like Agatha Christie.
Beatrix Potter – Peter Rabbit is like Arthur Conan Doyle.
Herman Melville – Moby Dick; Or the Whale is like Robert Louis Stevenson.
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein is like Mary Shelley.
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy is like Leo Tolstoy.
Homer – The Iliad is like William Shakespeare.
Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle is like Kurt Vonnegut.

Then, in the interest of pandering, I thought I’d look up a few contemporary writers/websites I like:
Jason Kottke is like (this surprises no one) David Foster Wallace.
The Daily What is like Stephen King.
John Gruber / Daring Fireball is like Stephen King.
Andy Baio / is like James Joyce.
Michael Lewis is like David Foster Wallace.
Chuck Klosterman is like Kurt Vonegut.
Bill Simmons is like Stephen King.

Now some pop culture folks:
Tracy Jordan is like James Joyce.
Don Draper‘s slide projector monologue is like Margaret Atwood.
The Real Shaq on Twitter is like Dan Brown.
Britney Spears on Twitter is like Dan Brown. (Probably because he uses web addresses in his writing?)
Britney Spears – Oops…I Did it Again is like Stephanie Meyer.
Jawbreaker – Kiss the Bottle is like David Foster Wallace.
Anthony Bourdain is like Dan Brown.

For what it’s worth, when you put this post through the tool, it’s like H.P. Lovecraft. Who did we leave out? Post your finds in the comments.

I Write Like Analysis

Brad Pitt Options Wrong Michael Lewis Book

It says here that Brad Pitt has optioned The Big Short. As loyal readers, you’ll know that I’ve been using the platform of Unlikely Words for several years to advocate for a movie based on Liar’s Poker. Actually The Big Short and Liar’s Poker could be released together as a part 1 and part 2 of the financial collapse. Shia Labeouf could play a young Michael Lewis.

Pitt’s Plan B productions is going full steam ahead on an adaptation of Lewis’ latest, “The Big Short,” about the events that led up to the current financial fiasco. They’re set offer Charles Randolph (“The Interpreter,” “The Life of David Gale”) $750G to write a script, reported New York mag’s Vulture.

Every couple months or so, I do a little Googling to see if Liar’s Poker has been optioned yet. Turns out it was optioned 20 years ago. Make the fucking movie already.

A few more Michael Lewis links to round out the day:
Complete Guide To Who’s Who In The CDO Scandal
Goldman Sachs Is Doomed

On Oaths

We pledge to meet and even get to know ordinary people who do not work for Goldman Sachs, so that we might better understand their irrational behavior, and exploit it only when necessary.

Brad Pitt Options Wrong Michael Lewis Book

Nicolas Sparks Reimagines Well Known Movies

These are not movies you want to watch, these Nicolas Sparks books made into movies. And yet, they keep getting made. NPR imagined what would happen if 10 popular movies were written by Nicolas Sparks.

1. The Karate Kid: At the tournament, Daniel admits to Mr. Miyagi that he has been concealing the kneecap cancer that makes the crane kick so useful to him. Daniel wins the tournament, but then collapses on the mat dead. “Get him a body bag,” says a Cobra Kai sadly. Daniel is carried out of the arena by a processional of Cobra Kai on one side and repeatedly bullied weaklings on the other. As he exits, Johnny says wistfully to his corpse, “You’re all right, LaRusso. You’re all right.” The movie ends with a slow piano cover of “Cruel Summer.”

Via bookshelves of doom

Nicolas Sparks Reimagines Well Known Movies