Upcoming Release News: Ah Pook Is (Finally) Here

September 11, 2010

“Now I, William Seward, will unlock my word hoard… Gentle Reader, the Word will leap on you with leopard man iron claws, it will cut off fingers and toes like an opportunistic land crab, it will hang you and catch your jissom like a scrutable dog, it will coil round your thighs like a bushmaster and inject a shot glass of rancid ectoplasm…” – Naked Lunch

The word hoard has unlocked again, as Wired announced this week that a long-unpublished graphic novel by William S. Burroughs, “Ah Pook Is Here,” will be published in the summer of 2011 by Fantagraphics. The graphic novel, a collaboration between Burroughs and artist Malcolm McNeill, was originally created in the 1970s as a comic strip for the now defunct English magazine Cyclops and developed as a full book off and on over the decade. Battered around between publishers before being abandoned in 1979, Fanta Graphics will be releasing it in a “spectacularly packaged two-volume, hinged set, along with ‘Observed While Falling,’ McNeill’s memoir documenting his collaboration with one of America’s most iconic authors.


Per the press release:

“Ah Pook Is Here” is a consideration of time with respect to the differing perceptions of the ancient Maya and that of the current Western mindset. It was Burroughs’ contention that both of these views result in systems of control in which the elite perpetuate its agendas at the expense of the people. They make time for themselves and through increasing measures of Control attempt to prolong the process indefinitely.

John Stanley Hart is the “Ugly American” or “Instrument of Control” – a billionaire newspaper tycoon obsessed with discovering the means for achieving immortality. Based on the formulae contained in rediscovered Mayan books he attempts to create a Media Control Machine using the images of Fear and Death. By increasing Control, however, he devalues time and invokes an implacable enemy: Ah Pook, the Mayan Death God. Young mutant heroes using the same Mayan formulae travel through time bringing biologic plagues from the remote past to destroy Hart and his Judeo/Christian temporal reality.

While this is the first time the work is presented in anything approximating its original conception, “Ah Pook” has been on the radar of Burroughs fans for years. It was published in 1979 in text-only format – now out of print – and chapters were read by Burroughs at his famous live readings, excerpts peppered with wisdom such as “Nobody does more harm than people who feel bad about doing it.” The art itself was resurrected by McNeill only last year – more than 30 years after its original conception – and received showings in Santa Monica and New York City with bits and pieces of Burroughs text.

But the fact that it’s not completely unreleased doesn’t dim my pleasure at the thought of a new William S. Burroughs work seeing the light – and ever since the publication of his Jack Kerouac collaboration “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” this is one of the last bits of his archive to be released. Based on the snippets and imagery, the book will likely be in the same vein as the “Cities of the Red Night” trilogy – indeed, Ah Pook himself is invoked in the dedication alongside Hassan-i-Sabbah and John Stanley Hart factors into the trilogy. But it seems the new release will really be what propels him to Benway-level depravity, if this line from an old reading is any indication:

“He found himself somewhat stonily received, and turning from the bar with his mug of beer to face the room he maladroitly snagged an old peasant in the scrotum with his fishing plug. He whipped out a switchblade with a poorly timed attempt at easy joviality, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just have to cut the whole thing off, eheh?’ Turning away, he made an ineffectual gesture at a New Yorker cartoon with his knife, inadvertently blinding the proprietor’s infant son. Seeing that all his friendly overtures had fallen admittedly flat, he saw fit to withdraw as unobtrusively and expeditiously as possible.”

Fittingly for a book concerned with a South American god of death, the novel appears to be taking the format of the Aztec and Mayan codices, conceived not as a straightforward narrative but “120 continuous pages that would ‘fold out’… a single painting in which text and images were combined in whatever form seemed appropriate to the narrative.” The existing artwork certainly gives the feeling of vastness such codices need to have (check out the “Codex Espangliensis” for a contemporary example) and the apocalyptic images are grimly surreal and evocative in a way that will pair well with the tone of Burroughs’ later writings.

I’ve talked before about how excited I get when some lost work by a well-known author is published, and that excitement is amplified tenfold when it’s by an author who sits at the top of my favored writers pantheon. “Ah Pook Is Here” has easily become one of the most anticipated releases of 2011.

Extra Credit:


Splendid American: A Eulogy for Harvey Pekar

August 6, 2010

Harvey Pekar at the 2005 Midwest Book Festival, autographing our correspondent's copy of "The Quitter."

When the word “writer” is spoken, it tends to call up a variety of traditional images. Some of us go for the romanticized image held by a young William S. Burroughs, where “writers are rich and famous… they lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit.” Others may think of the traditional academic with pipe and tweed jacket, while others visualize the adrenaline-jacked free association writer banging at the typewriter until the fingers start to bleed a bit. I doubt anyone’s first thought for the term would be a grouchy, balding, Cleveland native who spent the majority of his life working in a Veterans Affairs hospital and obsessed over the worst-case scenarios in every drive to the store.

But there’s one such person whom I’d call a true writer over many other candidates, and one such person whom the literary world tragically lost last month. Harvey Pekar, an career file clerk and the creator of the “American Splendor” comic series, passed away at his home in Cleveland, Ohio at the age of 70. The cause of death is still unknown, but as anyone who read his comics knew he was no stranger to health problems: at various times over the last few years he suffered from lymphoma, prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and severe depression.

(Update 10/26/10: The coroner who conducted Pekar’s autopsy has since reported that Pekar’s cause of death was “an accidental ingestion of fluoxetine and bupropion,” better known as Prozac and Wellbutrin. Pekar had been taking both drugs at the time of his death.)

And readers knew all the details about not just Pekar’s health, but his financial issues, his marriages and a hundred other details about his life and surroundings. In a 35-year career Pekar became one of the most predominant autobiographical writers working in the comic medium – or any written medium, for that matter – by delving into his everyday life and the lives of those surrounding him, rather than superheroes or otherworldly situations. From the simple idea of making comics about the mundane, Pekar went on to a career that paid little but turned him into a figure as important to comics as Stan Lee or Alan Moore, someone whom a legion of writers owes without even knowing it.

“Well, let’s get this thing going. I’m Harvey Pekar, author and protagonist of this autobiographical comic story. Maybe you’ve read some of my gloomy stories here before. They appeal to people who are miserable and love company. I think if you feel rotten most of the time by a certain age, you’re always gonna feel lousy – your glass is always gonna be half empty. I don’t have it any worse than a lot of people, but I pity myself more. What else can I do? I can’t depend on them to pity me. Anyway, I look at it this way – anything that doesn’t kill me could be the basis of one of my stories.”

– Harvey Pekar, “Payback” (2000)

Pekar, who was introduced into the world of underground comics through a friendship with R. Crumb, approached it with an attitude that was unique at the time – looking past the basic framework of comics as “funny pages” or telling bombastic superhero stories. Living an unsatisfying life in decaying Cleveland neighborhoods and working as a file clerk for the VA, Pekar was understandably looking for some outlet for the everyday annoyances that beset him. Waiting in line behind elderly Jewish ladies, the endless monotony of a depressing office job, selling second-hand pop records to support his jazz collection – these stories seemed not only more real than mainstream comics but more interesting to Pekar, and he thought the comic layout could carry those stories.

And Pekar managed not only to carry these stories, but make them “mundane bordering on exotic” as Crumb would later say. The issues of “American Splendor” had an almost epic feel to them in many ways, as he hustled his way through each day he struggled to get up for in the mornings. He was fighting little battles – turf wars between VA departments, better deals on repairs to his car, getting the right groceries for his wife – and readers were caught up in the “lose many, win some” attitude that kept him plugging away day after day. Thanks to collaboration with a broad range of artists – Crumb, Gary Dumm, Frank Stack, Joe Sacco and Dean Haspiel to name a few – the stories also had a varied appearance and proved comic panels could be dynamic without action scenes.

“Underground comics had already proved that comics could appeal to adults. They were as good an art form as any that existed. Comics are words and pictures – you can do anything with words and pictures. So I thought, why couldn’t I write about everyday quotidian subjects in comics? Why couldn’t comics be about the lives of working stiffs? We’re as interesting and funny as everyone else.”

– Harvey Pekar, The Quitter

The stories he chronicled were interesting and funny, but they wouldn’t have been so without Pekar’s keen ear in capturing the personalities of the people he portrayed. His “genuine nerd” coworker Toby Radloff, his third wife Joyce Brabner or his inimitable boss Mr. Boats – they were people who were genuine characters, and he made them seem real without being caricatures. This likely has to do with the fact that Pekar began his writing career in his teens as a jazz critic, and his fascination – one which he and many others would call obsession – with the way the music worked no doubt shaped his ability to listen to other people and get a feel for their dialect and mannerisms.

Not only did this background help him write, but it also led to further expansion of comic storytelling. Many “American Splendor” highlights came when Pekar spent his time talking about topics that interested him, be they improvisation of obscure jazz musicians or Russian experimental authors or a life-long resident’s view on why Cleveland’s rebirth post Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a joke. Pekar wasn’t just lucky to be hearing what he heard, his was a cunning and critical mind that knew what it was talking about, and the strength of his intellect both strengthened the stories he told and added to readers’ regret he couldn’t earn a better life. (As a side note, I lived in Cleveland for three years during my childhood, and my own grim memories of that time certainly back up Pekar’s observations.)

But while the intellect driving Pekar’s work was exceptional, it paled next to the undeniable honestly he wrote about his life. Although he occasionally used pseudonyms like Jack or Herschel for his main character, the comics never hid that he was writing about himself – and in the most unflattering light. In stories he was cheap to the point of miserly, drove away wives and girlfriends with his complaining, and dwelled heavily on being alone and bored over the weekends. The words “curmudgeon” and “misanthrope” were attributed in virtually every article about him, and he never disassociated himself with any such term or took pride in it. To put it bluntly, Pekar was Pekar, a man whose stories came as much from his dissatisfaction and worry as his ear for conversation – and the more he raged, the more his audience sided with him.

“OK. This guy here, he’s our man, all grown up and going nowhere. Although he’s a pretty scholarly cat, he never got much of a formal education. For the most part, he’s lived in shit neighborhoods, held shit jobs, and he’s now knee-deep into a disastrous second marriage. So, if you’re the kind of person looking for romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day… guess what? You’ve got the wrong movie.”

– Harvey Pekar, “American Splendor” (film narration)

During my college career, I had the good fortune to see Pekar speak on two occasions at the University of Wisconsin – even writing about one of them – and found him to be an immensely rewarding presence on stage. As unassuming in real life as he was on the page – he almost walked onto the stage during the moderator’s introduction, and then quickly headed behind the curtain – Pekar was grouchy but also somewhat affable, perfectly willing to answer any question directed at him by the moderator or the audience. He didn’t have any interest in deceiving an audience, calling this a “rotten night” and admitting that the various writing contracts he’d gotten as a result of the “American Splendor” film were a good thing because he “could really use the bread.”

Around the time of his second visit for the Midwest Book Festival in 2005, I also had the opportunity to have my copy of his novella “The Quitter” personally autographed, and later had the privilege of reviewing it for my local newspaper. In a rather Pekarian frame of mind, I debated at the time whether or not to send a copy of my review his way, but put it off because even though I reviewed it favorably I was worried about his reaction. It remains one of my regrets in this career, compounded by the fact that I was too young to seek him out when I lived in Cleveland.

For those who have not had the opportunity to read “American Splendor” or any of Pekar’s other works, “The Quitter” also serves as probably the best introduction. Most of the details can be found in my earlier review, but as a first step it works because “The Quitter” manages to condense many of the stories on his family and early job experiences, scattered through previous issues. It also helps that thanks to the solid art style of Dean Haspiel, Pekar’s story is unified in a way anthologies of “American Splendor” comics lack. It’s not as as strongly written as some “American Splendor” issues (though definitely not as bad as some critics said) but its a reliable Cliffs Notes for the series.

After this introduction gives the right understanding of what Pekar readers are in for, it’s simple enough to jump into any of the anthologies that have been collected over the years. I’m partial to “Best of American Splendor” (which I actually won as a door prize at the MBF) but the most famous “Splendor” stories are contained in “The New American Splendor: From Off the Streets of Cleveland,” and “American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar.” Pekar’s life and work was also adapted into the 2003 film “American Splendor,” staring Paul Giamatti as Pekar, and it’s a film that nails the beat of Pekar’s writing and attitude and taking only the appropriate liberties with chronology. From the film, he was also able to expand into other writing projects, ranging from a graphic history of Beat writers to the political state of Masadonia.

And if you happen to be as cheap as Pekar, there’s a way to introduce yourself to his style for free. In his last months Pekar, notorious for his technophobia across all computer platforms, actually made the bridge to webcomic writer thanks to The Pekar Project on Smith Magazine. Collaborating with a pool of new artists, the project allowed Pekar to tell new “Splendor”-type stories on a biweekly basis, waxing about Comedy Central or Muncie, Indiana. It’s certainly worth checking out, if only for the fact that according to its creator the project still has several unpublished Pekar stories to bring to life – a posthumous offering appropriate for such a workhouse of a writer.

But sadly, the one posthumous offering we won’t get is the one that would be his perfect swan song: if the Angel of Death had given him ten final minutes to write one last story for the Project or Crumb or Haspiel to illustrate. This might come across as a little insensitive – asking a man to work before their goodbye-cruel-world – but if anyone would have been unreservedly angry, unabashedly honest and tragically funny with the Grim Reaper tapping his watch over their shoulder, it would have been Harvey Pekar. Here’s hoping he’s found the peace that eluded him so on the streets of Cleveland.

“I was alone all that weekend. I thought about “Jennie Gerhardt” an’ Alice Quinn an’ decades a’ faces ran through my mind. I felt like cryin’; life seemed so sweet and so sad an’ so hard t’let go of in the end. But this is Monday. I went t’work, hustled some records, came home an’ wrote this. Life goes on. Every day is a new deal. Keep workin’ and maybe sump’n’ll turn up.”

– Harvey Pekar, “Alice Quinn” (1982)

Our correspondent's personally autographed "The Quitter."


Text-to-Screen News: HST Returns to Cinema

May 6, 2010

Hunter S. Thompson at a "Free Lisl" rally in Denver, 2001.

As anyone who has even a passing familiarity with me knows, I love Hunter S. Thompson. I’ve read the great majority of his books, I’ve dressed as him on three Halloweens, I can quote him at will, have a font of trivia at my disposal and do more than a passing impression. The reasons why I love the Good Doctor are long and detailed and far more impassioned than that I simply like yelling about golf shoes in hotel bars, but will have to wait for another time. I mention this now because an interesting bit of Thompson-related news came out on Sunday, and I feel it’s important to cast light on potential bias before discussion.

As the Hollywood Reporter noted on Sunday and which I heard about through The A.V. Club, the Motion Picture Corporation of America has optioned “Prisoner of Denver,” an article Thompson wrote for Vanity Fair in 2004 in collaboration with contributing editor Mark Seal. The article concerns the imprisonment of Lisl Auman, a 21-year-old who was charged with murder despite already being in police custody when the crime occurred – an accomplice who committed suicide did the actual shooting. Thompson became pen pals with Auman and took up the fight for her freedom, rallying several of his celebrity friends to the cause to help earn her release in 2005.

“It is not in my nature to be polite to people who want to hurt me, or to turn my back on a woman who is being brutally raped right in front of my eyes, especially when the rapists are wearing big guns and Denver Police Department badges. And that is why I am telling you this disgusting story about how notoriously vicious cops buried a provably innocent young woman in a tiny cell in the concrete bowels of a Colorado state prison for the rest of her life with no possibility of parole. That is a death sentence, pure and simple, and those rotten, murdering bastards are still proud of it. Proud. Remember that word, because it is going to come back and haunt every one of those swine. The Lisl Auman scandal will whack the Denver law-enforcement establishment like Watergate whacked Richard Nixon.”
– “Prisoner of Denver,” Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, 2004

I have not read “Prisoner of Denver” myself as it has yet to make it into a Thompson compilation, and a cursory search couldn’t yield a link on Vanity Fair‘s website or any other site (though the first few paragraphs can be read here), so I can’t comment on whether or not it’s an article that deserves filming. What I will say though is that it opens up room to portray an aspect of Thompson many people overlook. Despite making a career chronicling “the death of the American Dream,” Thompson loved America fiercely, and in his later years perceived violations of her principles sent his fighting spirit into overdrive. “Songs of the Doomed” depicts an excellent example of this, chronicling Thompson’s arrest for sexual assault and drug possession which he soon turned into an assault on his Fourth Amendment rights.

As Ralph Steadman put it, “he felt this deep outrage, because someone was fucking with his beloved Constitution,” and that’s an attitude I think would be good to see on screen to clear up the image of drugs and hyperbole that too often colors Thompson’s public image. Plus, the Doctor as aged patriot might make a great excuse for Bill Murray to step back into the role.

That said, I’m not approaching the release with wide eyes. I think The A.V. Club makes a legitimate point about how it has the potential to be somewhat mawkish, considering Thompson has been dead for five years now and not around to make sure the swine keep him in the right light. Plus, according to the Hollywood Reporter, MPCA are looking for screenwriters “with a focus on Thompson and Seal acting as a couple of gonzo Woodward and Bernsteins,” and that phrase just makes the bile rise in my stomach. Few things do more damage to the Doctor’s reputation than shoddy imitators.

Of course, given that the film adaptation of “The Rum Diary” languished in development hell for a decade and Thompson’s third collection of letters “The Mutineer” delays its release date more than its author did turning in articles, I don’t expect to hear too much out of this project for at least a year or two. A close eye will of course be maintained on proceedings, to see if the eventual ride is worth the ticket price.

(As an aside, the article also states that the long-delayed “Rum Diary” film will be seeing release in September, a fact confirmed by IMDB and Wikipedia. I’m an eternal cynic on this film making it to the big screen, given that two incarnations were killed in development, but it’s more concrete than anything I’ve heard in years. Show me a trailer, then we’ll talk more.)


Links of Literacy: Good News in the Book World

December 15, 2009

As I spend my nights carving into a pile of articles sure to challenge your perceptions on literature (or at least tell you what I think of various books and films based on books), a few things that make me happy have popped up in the world of bibliographic news. I would like to share them with you in the hopes they bring you good cheer in this holiday season.

1. Yahtzee moves to maximum punctuation!

Dark Horse Books have quite a reputation in the world of graphic novels – Sin City, The Mask and Hellboy are only a few of the unique intellectual properties that have been distributed under their imprints – and now it appears they have a solid stake in traditional literature. This October it was announced that their stable of authors will be joined by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, creator of the Escapist video game review series “Zero Punctuation,” with his debut novel “Mogworld” in August of 2010.

In Yahtzee’s own words from his website:

Mogworld is the culmination of a few years’ work from an idea that took root back when I was playing World of Warcraft. It’s NOT a graphic novel, as you might assume from Dark Horse publishing it. It’s a proper wordy thinky brainy book. I feel that if I give myself free reign to go on about it here I’ll end up calling it a lot of pretentious things that it isn’t, so at the most basic level it’s a fun little comedic fantasy. But it’s also a bit of a satire on MMOs, the games industry, and the concept of heroism, and incorporates perhaps a hint of existentialism WHOOPS there I go.

I personally could not be happier about this – not only because Dark Horse is based in Portland and I support any and all creative minds who find links to the city. Yahtzee’s ZP videos were an endless distraction for me during my darker unemployed days, and his writing style has been a considerable influence both in my critical and humorous writings (as you may have noticed in the more colorful analogies I try to insert, as well as more subtle ways). I’ve enjoyed many of the longer pieces on his website – even though he disowns much of his early work they’re worth skimming – and his weekly “Extra Punctuation” column on the Escapist shows his thought processes and writing techniques are far more advanced than simply swearing at Sonic the Hedgehog.

So, August 2010 – mark your calendars for that. I believe this is a book worth anticipating, even though Yahtzee has called hype an invention of mean-spirited marketing executives who never discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

2. Natalie Portman aims for the head!

While I heard author Seth Grahame-Smith dropping hints about this during his book tour (mostly mumbling titles like “The Professional” and “Garden State” when asked about films) it’s a relief to see the formal news break. Natalie Portman, star of films as diverse as “V for Vendetta” and “The Darjeeling Limited” has been tapped to play the lead role in the film adaptation of the critically acclaimed title “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

I’m slightly disappointed that my original idea of reuniting the original cast of the 2005 film in a brilliant burst of metahumor won’t come to fruition, but I have nothing to complain about with the selection of Portman. An actress who can move from drama to action films seamlessly – and survive the briny slop that was the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy – I have no doubt she has the talent and charisma to be on par with the college girls and amputee strippers who thrive in the zombie apocalypse.

At least I hope we’ll have a chance to find out. The film is pegged as in development with a potential 2011 release, and any number of things could happen between now and then. Hopefully this won’t wind up eternally in development hell, unlike some other book adaptations I’ve been waiting around for.


Death of a Writer Notice: Frank McCourt

July 20, 2009

Frank_mccourt

The New York Times announced on Sunday that author Frank McCourt passed away at the age of 78 from metastatic melanoma. A long time writing teacher in New York City, McCourt was best known amongst literary circles for his 1996 memoir “Angela’s Ashes,” a tale of his difficult Irish and Brooklyn childhood that won several awards and was adapted to film in 1999.

“I must congratulate myself, in passing, for never having lost the ability to examine my conscience, never having lost the gift of finding myself wanting & defective. Why fear the criticism of others when you, yourself, are first out of the critical gate? If self-denigration is the race I am the winner, even before the starting gun. Collect the bets.” – Frank McCourt


News Update: Quirk Books announces next classic mash-up

July 15, 2009

After keeping fans in suspense for the last few months, the wait is finally over: Quirk Books has announced the next title in their “Quirk Classics” series of literary re-imaginings, following on the excellent “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”

The winner? Might actually be a bit of a surprise:

Sense_Sensibility_SeaMonsters

The new title, “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” is a remake of another Jane Austen novel, this one weaving Victorian manners and social breeding with the nautical images of kraken, pirates, sharks and other denizens of the deep. The book is scheduled to be released on September 15 of this year.

My take on this? Well, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” is one of my favorite books of all time, and I thought the imagery of the Flying Dutchman crew was one of the only factors keeping the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels from sliding into “Matrix” sequel-level mediocrity. Still don’t understand why so many people are fascinated with the Cthulu mythos, but I do give the imagery credit for inspiring so many T-shirts and RPGs.

Anyway, I think the expansion to sea monsters is a great stylistic choice on their part,with room for expansion into fields ranging from a great battle with a kraken to giant lobster claws ripping waistcoats asunder. The imagery concocted is inspired, and there is a fountain of information to draw off of. Additionally, it’s more creative than I was expecting, and keeps the series alive rather than sliding into too much meme territory – yes there will be pirates, but it promises to be more creative than that.

I am a little disappointed that they’re sticking with Jane Austen again rather than trying out a new author, but for a new franchise like this it’s probably best not to stray too far out of the comfort zone for risk of using up all your ideas. Plus it does keep my “Tale of Two Cities” steampunk project open.

Speaking of authors, one change is that this project will be handled not by Seth Grahame-Smith of PPZ, but by Ben H. Winters, best known for his work on the “Worst-Case Scenario” series of books. I remain slightly concerned that switching horses will make for a marked difference, but as long as they keep to formula of the first one – not dramatically altering the original work, making the changes fit in with the themes and characters – it shouldn’t be too hard to mess up. Winters does say that the “monster-to-Austen ratio” will be higher in this book, but being only a 10 percent shift there’s not real room for alarm.

Plus, Grahame-Smith’s absence means he will be free to work on his upcoming release “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a title I’m possibly looking forward to even more than the new Quirk Classic.

Well, for right now I’m going to regard this project as one of the most anticipated releases for the fall, and will look forward to getting my hands on it. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend that you watch their announcement trailer as many times as you possibly can.

Les Chappell is open to discussing any ideas for his Dickensian steampunk project. Currently brainstorming guillotine advancements.


Links of Literacy: June 3, 2009

June 3, 2009

1. Move over Oprah? Obama sells books by Amy Pirnes, POLITCO, May 30, 2009

With print media desperately trying to use Obama’s image to keep public attention on their front pages, it’s no surprise that the book world is also attuned to his star power. Of course presidents are invaluable in driving up statistics, but Obama’s gravitas and literary success make him even more credible than previous chief executives.

It’s also reassuring to see that Obama has good taste, with “What is The What” a mutually appreciated title by the President and your overseer.

2. Literary Losers by Mark Savras, Booklist, May 11, 2009

A brief list by Mark Savras, host of The Elegant Variation, one of the better literary blogs out there (and one of my chief inspirations after learning about it and getting some advice during last year’s Wordstock festival in Portland). Interesting characters, and he makes a good point that literature seems to lack more realistic protagonists these days. I would also add Thomas Lang from Hugh Laurie’s “The Gun Seller” to the list.

3. Summer 2009: Rebecca Blood’s Reading Lists by Rebecca Blood, Rebecca’s Pocket, June 1, 2009

Following composition of my summer reading list for 2009, I was soon informed that it had been added to a list itself. A lot of interesting variants here, ranging from recommendations by college professors to the reading list of armed forces to books that will be turned into films in the next few months. If you burn through my list quickly or aren’t interested in my suggestions, there’s bound to be something interesting on here for you.

4. At BookExpo This Year, the Talk Was of eBooks by Motoko Rich, The New York Times, May 31, 2009.

Following up on last week’s post, it’s no surprise to see the industry struggling and camps being drawn in the war with eBooks. Authors against it, publishers desperately trying to profit from it, but everyone realizing that this isn’t something that’s going away.

Personal note: the notice that Macmillan’s  was “holed up in bunkerlike rooms in the bowels of the convention center.” Considering they laid me off as a project manager three months ago, it’s small comfort to see my circumstances aren’t isolated ones.

5. Lawsuit targets “rip-off” of “Catcher in the Rye” by Doug Gross, CNN, June 3, 2009

J.D. Salinger, one of the most reclusive authors in known memory, has finally resurfaced – at least in the form of legal documents, more specifically a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Swedish publisher Nicotext for their novel “60 Years Later: Coming Through The Rye,” that depicts his protagonist Holden Caufield as an old man. Personally, my take is that by the fair use doctrine the character can be reprinted – even if it’s essentially published fan fiction – but Salinger appears to be keeping a tight grip on his intellectual property. Any thoughts on this?