Trailer Alert: The Booksellers

You’d expect a documentary about New York City booksellers to be about chasing down a…I dunno say a first edition Charles Dickens or perhaps a Hoop Dreams style doc about wanting to become a rare book dealer. It’s neither. Instead what director D.W. Young offers is a sci-fi tangent via Henry Wessells whose book is A Conversation Larger Than the Universe: Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic (whew!) as well as a motivated search for early hip hop documents and magazines.

That’s the value of being in New York City. Just like the city The Booksellers “takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.” “Obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers” that’s New York City.

So much so that in documentary Fran Lebowitz shares about the time she lent David Bowie a book. Now that…that is Modern Love between an Intellectual and a Dreamer.

Among the compelling categories of distinct humans in this world, I found the specialist and generalist divisions fascinating. That you could build a whole life and a career with an unwavering dedication to one topic. There was the collector who was collecting overlooked women’s contributions while another focused on Mao Tse-tung. It’s a bold choice to know somebody else feels this way. Or find what you find is valuable.

What I find valuable are readers. We write a lot and focus a lot on the disappearance of the indie bookstore and blame Barnes and Noble and curse the Amazon affect all these standard narratives yet this documentary touches upon the fact that readers those wonderful people willing to dig through the stacks are fading. It’s almost like many individuals have lost their ability to curate reading and their pop culture. Is that accurate?

I find a number of people?some considered music fans?open Spotify and listen to Rihanna or Beyonce because it’s simple and everybody knows who they are and what that’s about and they are done. They don’t have to shift through the stacks to discover a really cool indie band or something that’s “off the grid.” They can be still with it and still be socially accepted. (When did that become goals?) But…where is the fun in that? Some of the best pop culture experiences I’ve had are analog: digging through the stacks like a detective in an 80s tv show searching for clues.

In the end? You must watch The Booksellers if only to behold the literary splendour of Jay Walker’s Library of the Human Imagination in Ridgefield, Connecticut. What the what?



New Book Alert: NBA Jam

What’s the statute of limitations on coin fishing? Nothing I did per say but I sure benefited from it. Back in the days of my reckless youth there was a quick stop convenience store, a kind of Kwik-E-Mart behind our high school. They had an Indiana Jones pinball machine which is still one of the greatest pinball machines of all time and they had NBA Jam along with Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II.

In hindsight I probably violated a number of loitering rules as well. Somebody in our gang…it felt like a gang—we were a bunch of loud sarcastic punks; I mean we couldn’t be cool if we went out on a Fall day without a jacket—had the X-Men mutant ability to coin fish.

This is when you tape a long string to a quarter or loop a string through a small hole in the quarter. You lower the quarter into the slot ever so gently like all an black dressed Tom Cruise in that first Mission Impossible movie…don’t make a sound. And in the slot that receives the quarter you deftly flick up your wrist to dunk the quarter like a chicken nugget in bbq sauce. You do this enough times you can fool the machine into 50 free plays for the price of 1 quarter. That’s a good deal. Ah how simple the 90s seemed.

In My Summer Lair interview with Reyan Ali he brings up a crucial point. NBA Jam instantly sparks warm nostalgic good vibrations. It’s associated with good time and friendship and hanging out and most importantly 90s NBA.

All the interviews in NBA Jam?Reyan Ali’s book on the classic arcade game from Boss Fight Books?from Shaq to DJ Jazzy Jeff to the design team at Midway offer an unvarnished authenticity and an infectious passion for the game.

Really short of having The Wonder Years narrator It is hard to articulate in any sort of meaningful way just how profound and incredible 90s NBA is and was and will always be.

1990’s NBA was defined by sound. Marv Albert exclaiming: “a spectacular move by Michael Jordan!” in 1991. John Tesh’s transcendent NBA anthem Roundball Rock. The Alan Parsons Project song Sirius. Finally just as important as all of them is Tim Kitzrow the scornful voice of NBA Jam who gave us the ability to articulate so much of what we were seeing on games broadcast on NBC.

“He’s on fire!” “The nail in the coffin.” “Boom Shakalaka!!” and so many more comical and handy expressions that neatly fit into real life. (Honestly? These are not phrases so much as free time machines to take us back to a glorious period of the NBA.)

On page 5 of NBA Jam Reyan writes: “Their arrival produced zero fanfare. No one really cared or understood who made arcade games. Customers were only interested in the games themselves, and they were eager to try NBA Jam.” He’s writing about the Midway Team who designed NBA Jam testing out the game at an arcade in Chicago. (The game came out in 1993…Midway designers were watching Jordan’s unparalleled greatness so I don’t doubt they were inspired.)

Reyan Ali is correct: I like the general public don’t know where Mortal Kombat came from or how Street Fighter versus Marvel happened. But as you begin to read the book he spent 4 years researching the stories are captivating because the characters are compelling.

Thankfully the seven designers at Midway made significant and critical decisions along the way…for example did you know that Big Head Mode was going to be the game’s default mode? That would have never worked.

Often some of our best pop culture was created and designed with little understanding of how they would impact our lives and stir our imaginations. Stan Lee had no way of knowing just how big Spider-Man or the X-Men would become. With Kirby and Ditko he designed and release them into the world and hoped for the best. They were the best.

NBA Jam is a wonderfully dense biography covering a variety of topics. Do you have any NBA Jam feelings? Read this book. Do you have a lot of 90s NBA and Michael Jordan feelings? Read this book. Want to learn about the video game business…maybe you got video game feelings? Read this book. Do you miss arcades with all their noise and optimism and friendships? Yes. Read this book.

I appreciate the way back playback and that a core element of the 90s was recognized and in a way enshrined via this NBA Jam book. I dunno if they’ll make NBA Jam games in the future; perhaps it’s good to leave it the way it is. Hard to imagine future editions will go Kaboom!


New Book Alert: February 17-21, 2020

My weekly collection of new and notable books for your pop culture pleasure and edification: #ReadMoreTweetLess.

Jack and Old Jewry: The City of London Policemen Who Hunted the Ripper by Amanda Harvey-Purse (Mango Books; on sale April 1, 2019): “Donald Swanson the Scotland Yard Detective in charge of Jack The Ripper case took secret of killer’s identity to the grave.” This is what made Fincher’s Zodiac so potent: it wasn’t the crimes as much as it was the emotional toll serial killers create for a wide and devastating ripple effect. #NewBookAlert for February 17, 2020.

Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear by Patrick Boucheron (& Willard Wood Translator) (Other Press; Handle Your Business on sale February 11, 2020): Just because a narrative is popular doesn’t mean it’s correct. History is litany of apologies: oh we were wrong about this person. Machiavelli is no different. Your feelings are not facts. #NewBookAlert for February 18, 2020.

Tiger Woods’s Back and Tommy John’s Elbow: Injuries and Tragedies That Transformed Careers, Sports, and Society by Jonathan Gelber (Sports Publishing; on sale October 1, 2019): Penny and Grant Hill broke our hearts. Hopefully Tiger Woods finds his way back to utter dominance. His greatness is missed. #NewBookAlert for February 19, 2020.

The CIA UFO Papers: 50 Years of Government Secrets and Cover-Ups by Dan Wright (Red Wheel Books; UFOs on sale September 1, 2019): “The secret CIA papers that prove that the government has been tracking UFOs and extraterrestrials for over 50 years.” It’s popular to talk about mental health now; cheap retweets and worthless virtue signalling. There was a time were we callously dismissed people’s trauma; mocking them instead of helping them. Are UFOs real? I dunno: pain and suffering is though. #NewBookAlert for February 20, 2020.

Open Book by Jessica Simpson (Dey Street Books; Memoir on sale February 4, 2020): It’s Friday! So: Why do blondes have TGIF on their shoes? Toes go in first! Jessica Simpson’s memoir is out now from Dey Street Books. #NewBookAlert for February 14, 2020.


New Book Alert: Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right

There’s a book that came out this past October: Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right by Anne Nelson.

Ready for this?

“In 1981, emboldened by Ronald Reagan’s election, a group of some fifty Republican operatives, evangelicals, oil barons, and gun lobbyists met in a Washington suburb to coordinate their attack on civil liberties and the social safety net. These men and women called their coalition the Council for National Policy. Over four decades, this elite club has become a strategic nerve center for channeling money and mobilizing votes behind the scenes. Its secretive membership rolls represent a high-powered roster of fundamentalists, oligarchs, and their allies, from Oliver North, Ed Meese, and Tim LaHaye in the Council’s early days to Kellyanne Conway, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, and the DeVos and Mercer families today.”

It’s all about the intertwining of Christian-Americans with Koch brothers and other similar nefarious types. Focus on the Family, 700 Club, Left Behind books…this book went through all the cheeze we were surrounded with growing up in the church or in pop culture in general. (Nicolas Cage starred in the 2014 Left Behind movie.)

Their long game includes placing conservative judges at all court levels to of course influence abortion, guns etc. The usual stuff right? You know the agenda.

Last night at the State of the Union Trump said: “In the Senate, we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges.”

According to the Washington Post Fact Checker: “It’s not a record. Trump has a long way to go to have appointed the most federal judges. Reagan has the record, with 383, followed by Bill Clinton with 378 and then Obama with 329. Through Jan. 18, 2020, 187 judges nominated by Trump have been confirmed by the Senate.” (The Fact Checker is a bit snarky…sensing some tone there.)

Still, that’s their basic plan: control the judges and you control the laws; control the laws and you control the land. Which of course you saw with the recent Supreme Court judge fights. That Trump has only appointed 187 judges means that while Trump will do damage he also continues to suck at the job: his evil lacks efficiency.

It’s why (according to the Shadow Network) “Christians” can tolerate Trump. How else are you gonna get all these judges appointed? They’re fundamentally opposed to the direction(s) America is heading in terms of openness, inclusivity etc. Basically, if they had their way Modern Family would not be on tv or a reality of any kind.

This sounds grim until you factor in that we’ve never ever successfully got rid of the flat earth premise. There was a time when that belief was universal than it got dramatically reduced but it never went away. Nothing any of us believe is truly universal (except for bad ideas will always stay with us). You just hope the opposition isn’t big or loud or road blocky.

Anne Nelson _V102.jpg

I was so excited to talk to Anne Nelson about all of this and…2 hours before the interview Kobe died. Bah! So my mind is all scattered and unfocused. But I like doing these ones like the I Kissed Dating Goodbye interview showcasing the sins of our past so we understand how we got here. I’m not interested in the toothless online judgments; it has to start with comprehension. I’m not angry that we’re lost; I wanna know how we got lost. Great book; check it out.

(That My Summer Lair interview is not up yet…I did another one too with Meghan Daum super bright writer based in NYC. Speaking of toothless online judgments: her new book is The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars. I had so much fun with her! That’s another must read.)


Goodbye Mary Higgins Clark

So what we’re not gonna talk at all that Mary Higgins Clark died (on January 31, 2020)?!

She was John Grisham before there was a John Grisham.

To be fair I stopped reading her around the early 90s. Her stuff from the late 70s and all through the 80s is incredible.

Tales like…

A Stranger Is Watching
The Cradle Will Fall
A Cry in the Night
Murder in Manhattan
Terror Stalks The Class Reunion
(excellent title!!)
While My Pretty One Sleeps

Those all sound like most excellent 70s/80s titles for an American era ruled by unchecked beliefs of razor blades inserted in Halloween apples and playing Dungeons & Dragons would summon Satan. Duh. Common Knowledge. (They also sound like heavy metal song titles/albums.)

By the early 90s I left her for Sue Grafton and never went back. Sue Grafton was my mystery writer June Carter Cash: I’d found the one who would make me happy and I’d spend the rest of my life with.

When I’d heard Mary passed away I felt bad. It’d been years since we were last together and ah…I haven’t really thought about her. Still, it’s sad to see her go.

She was 92; cranked out over 50 books. She did The Work and leaves behind an astonishing contribution to our pop culture.

I’m also partly sad because I still miss Sue Grafton. As readers, we develop relationships with characters…and occasionally with writers. What a journey its been as a book nerd.

“What have I become
My sweetest friend?
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way.”

Goodbye Mary Higgins Clark.


Don’t Lose Your Head In Five Years

Started 2020 writing about Prince and Bowie and…Mystify: Michael Hutchence a solid documentary on the INXS frontman.

It’s been making the festival rounds…it was at Tribeca this past April, it screened on the BBC at the end of December…it’s even out on DVD. The 7th, however, was their 1 day catch it if you can American release. Mainly for cities that are not like LA or NYC you know? (Turns out America has more than 2 cities…did you know this?!)

And sorry…there are no Canadian dates!! Boo!! It played at Hot Docs here in Toronto last April. I interviewed the director on January 7. He’s an Australian filmmaker and we like gave him a bunch of Canadian firefighters so he owes us. Made him laugh when I brought that up. But yeah no Canadian dates.

(The doc is called Mystify (outstanding tune on the sublime Kick album) but during many movie moments I keep returning to Don’t Lose Your Head released right before Michael perished:

“What must have happened to your soul
Is skinnin’ you alive
The thing that you fear the most is love
And that’s buried deep inside
So deep inside

The heart you’re building out of rock
Is turning into sand
Cause you never took the time to think
What it means to be a man”

That was June 27, 1997…dude’d be dead by November 22, 1997. And suddenly we hadda face Y2K and a whole new millennium with one less band. I did not enjoy this New Sensation. I think of that song often when it comes to Michael Hutchence’s passing. While Five Years is what I think about with Bowie.

Five Years is a monster song: those lyrics and the subtlety of the music as it builds. I know the whole Ziggy thing gets lots of press (as it should) but Five Years is easy to overlook and under appreciate on an album with Moonage Daydream, Starman, Ziggy and more.

Bowie (and Prince) we don’t replace em…music will be fine lots of people will continue to make excellent songs but yeah those guys are gone. Just gone.


Purple Freedom

Prince in Beautiful Ones says: “If I want this book to be about one overarching thing, it’s freedom. And the freedom to create autonomously. Without anyone telling you what to do or how or why. Our consciousness is programmed. We see things a certain way from a young age — we’re programmed to keep doing them that way. Then you have to spend adulthood learning how to overcome it, to read out the programs. Try to create. I want to tell people to create. Just start by creating your day. Then create your life.”

Got up on January 1st after hitting up a couple of parties the night before (“hey ladies! In 2020 I can be a mistake but if you sign up right now I can even be a regret!!”) and Prince’s book was sitting on my nightstand.

Spent the day in bed reading it since January 1 is all about that energy: what we decide to start means stopping something else. If you sign up for the gym you’ll probably wanna stop living and eating like a homeless teenager.

I miss that guy.


You Have the Right to Remain Silent

One of my favourite journalists Matt Taibbi finally articulated a core concept I’ve been circling but haven’t fully been able to express. He’s writing about journalism…in newspapers and on tv and he says in his book Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another (on page 137):

“We (we as in journalists) are not informing you. We can’t, actually. Irony alert: the most important news story in the world is the inability of the ordinary news consumer to understand the news. This is no dig against readers. The world has just grown so complex that the majority of serious issues are beyond the understanding of non-specialists.

Take “the economy.” The average citizen has basic ideas about money. We shouldn’t spend more than we have. People should pay their debts And so on. But how many people know what a derivative is? An interest rate swap? An auction rate security?”

That’s It! The media doesn’t explain or say educate all the important issues from pollution to the 2008 Financial Crisis to you name it.

After 9/11 happened we were told it’s because they hate us and our freedom. That’s an incredibly glib summation of American foreign policy. But what’s easier they hate us; they’re the bad guys or having to account and document for America’s overseas sins and oil dependence (especially considering General Motors was working on electric cars since the 70s. We had viable alternatives. I mean did people really think the Lunar Roving Vehicle NASA used during Apollo 15 was oil based?! There’s no oil on the moon!! That was 1971. Come on man. We put an electric car on the moon…we were good at science and engineering!).

Like I don’t have a strong Brexit stance because of the complexity of the issue.

I saw a post earlier this month from a comic book shop explaining how American comics like Marvel Comics would be shipped delayed, cost more…due to an added VAT tax…a handful of key issues related to the UK leaving the EU. It was a good post and it made a number of issues I haven’t considered at all much more clear. But that’s just comics…that’s not food or medicine; other businesses will clearly be impacted; I just don’t have the knowledge to comprehend how much less suggest viable solutions. I abstain and hope they can work it out.

There’s this constant refrain in response to large incidents: “we need to have a conversation…” We need to have a national conversation about gun control/safety. We need to have a global conversation about sexual harassment and #MeToo.

No. We don’t.

We’re not capable of those conversations (anymore? I dunno if we were capable back in like the 70s or something.). We’re not good at these “conversations” because we’re not informed enough. Or at all. Can you imagine living outside the UK with no connections or family to Britain yet having strong loud opinions on Brexit?! Uninformed opinions are not productive; they’re narcissism.

Same thing with politicians: A.I. is coming/here, self-driving cars…robots…you gotta start making decisions NOW and start figuring these things out NOW. A President’s job isn’t to keep the economy chugging and keep unemployment low not anymore. This is 2020 not 1920.

Sadly the problem is…we don’t have many strong and intelligent politicians: deft individuals who can balance the present needs while developing a compelling future.

I bet this is partly what’s fueling the rise of documentaries (and podcasts) because you get a couple of hours to properly explore a topic. Ignorance is a choice just as much as intelligence. With a suitcase the handle is fairly obvious and you can pick it up quickly and go on your way. Many topics and the issues we’re currently facing do not have a readily presented handle: it can be difficult to properly get a handle on them. That’s just to start.

Just because you can name the planets doesn’t make you good at astronomy nor should it give you the confidence to rap battle Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Anyways I thought that quote was insightful. Like the Miranda Rights begin: You Have the Right to Remain Silent. To willingly choose to be silent would actually make you…for once: right.


New Book Alert: September 30-October 4, 2019

My weekly collection of new and notable books for your pop culture pleasure and edification: #ReadMoreTweetLess.

September 30

So cool to get talented writer Bari Weiss in book form. Grateful to be away from the painfully predicable and boring white noise of the internet.

Her book is How to Fight Anti-Semitism and it’s from Crown Publishing and it’s out now!

October 1

Stoicism is one of the distinct hallmarks of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the entire Apollo mission. They got it won and done.

Along with effective stoicism is Stillness Is the Key out today by Ryan Holiday and published by Portfolio Books!

October 2

The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg more like The Many Opinions of Michael Bloomberg!

Eleanor Randolph’s Michael Bloomberg biography is out now from Simon & Schuster.

October 3

“I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican. . .in that order.” ~Mike Pence


A break from the predictable glut of President Trump books; for a change one on Vice President Mike Pence. Piety and Power by Tom LoBianco and published by Dey Street Books. Out now!

October 4

Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth is out now from Crown Publishing!

President Donald J. Trump continues to be profitable and comfortable.


New Book Alert: September 2-6, 2019

My weekly collection of new and notable books for your pop culture pleasure and edification: #ReadMoreTweetLess.

PSA: September is a great month for nerds who read…pictureless books!

David Koepp’s Cold Storage (out September 3)

Stephen King’s The Institute (out September 10)

Orson Scott Card’s Lost and Found (out September 10)

Stan Lee’s A Trick of Light (with Kat Rosenfield!) (out September 17)

Now…for the New Book Alerts:

Quichotte: A Novel by Salman Rushdie (Random House; Novel on sale September 3, 2019): Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is out TODAY which automatically makes today a great day. As always his books are tea worthy! Both for the reading and the animated discussion afterwards. #NewBookAlert for September 3, 2019.

A quick informal survey. Which do you like best? US/Canadian cover on the left, UK/Indian cover on the right? Me, I like both a lot.

— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) August 2, 2019

Cold Storage: A Novel by David Koepp (Ecco; Novel on sale September 3, 2019): David Koepp (yes the Jurassic Park guy!!) has published his first novel: Cold Storage. I’m curious…of course he’s already sold the film rights so I suppose I could just wait for the movie. That so worked in high school: A +.  (I am curious why after all these years and billions in box office…why a novel now especially a novel that was sold whose movie right were quickly sold?) #NewBookAlert for September 4, 2019.

In case you missed it, read a teaser of COLD STORAGE right over here. And then go preorder it! Today! For $2.99? YES!

— Ecco (@eccobooks) August 7, 2019

American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News?From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror by Roberto Sirvent & Danny Haiphong (Skyhorse; Politics on sale April 2, 2019): American Exceptionalism and American Innocence tackles Oprah’s spoon feeding (I told you!) and the NFL and LeBron James and so much more. It’s All Happening! When the subjects are this seemingly unconnected the thinking is usually sharp. #NewBookAlert for September 5, 2019.

I am going to #China this December. It is not cheap and I have been #unemployed for over a year. My book makes a great gift and is meant to be a service to the struggle for #socialjustice. Consider getting a copy today!

— Danny Haiphong (@SpiritofHo) August 31, 2019

The Odyssey by Ken Hunts (Book*hug Press; Poetry on sale August 20, 2019): Ken Hunt’s follow up to his awe-inspiring The Lost Cosmonauts. Excellent space inspired poetry…as a society we used to read poetry often. We were also a society that used to look up at the stars. #NewBookAlert for September 6, 2019.

Fifty years ago humans embarked on an epic journey to land on the moon. Now, @Jkchunt utilizes NASA’s Apollo 11 voice transcription document, to create The Odyssey, an erasure poem of star charts. Available now: #FridayReads

— Book*hug Press (@bookhugpress) August 30, 2019


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