Fifty Shades of Ambivalence

The notorious Newsweek cover.

I’ve vowed not to write today’s post about the hot new novel Fifty Shades of Grey. My goal this week is to be the only book blogger in America not writing about what Katie Roiphe in a Newsweek cover story calls this “watered-down, skinny-vanilla-latte version of sadomasochism. “ I would have thought not writing about this novel would have been easy. After all, I spent great swathes of my 20s engaged in the activity I thought of as Not Writing My Dissertation. Read more »

Nashville Cat

image of Ted the Cat looking a little forlorn

I spent the weekend in Nashville, visiting my middle daughter, Elizabeth.  Nashville has its attractions—the music, the restaurants, the honky-tonks, the (shall we say) colorful tourists.  For me, however, it has Elizabeth—sufficient reason to travel anywhere on earth.  We spent the weekend mostly eating.  The real pleasure of listening to the voice of your grown daughter—in whom you see at every moment the infant, the toddler, all those earlier versions of her that brought you so much joy and laughter over the years—lies not in her openness, or her wit, or all the manifold satisfactions of seeing her make her way in the world.  No, the real pleasure of listening to the voice of your grown daughter is that while she’s talking you can fill your face with sushi.  And beer.  Or pizza.  And more beer.  The joys of fatherhood are many.  Meanwhile, however, I found that while I was in Music City, USA, enjoying my daughter’s company, our Ted was feeling neglected.  Or, at least, one would believe so from the following, which I found on the computer monitor when I got home. Read more »

Johnny Cash: A Daughter’s Memories

photo of Johnny Cash and daughter Rosanne dancing at her wedding.

This is turning into Johnny Cash Week at 317am. With his big memorial concert in Austin tonight, I can’t resist a second post on the singer, songwriter, and musician who brought me to that great American treasure trove, country music.  I’ve been playing Johnny Cash CDs a lot this week and watching some video footage of him in concert. Read more »

The Short Story According to Joyce Carol Oates and Edgar Allan Poe

Photo of Joyce Carol Oates

I’m teaching a course in “Contemporary American Short Stories” this spring, and, in effort to understand what makes a good short story from the ground up, I’ve been reading quite a lot written by writers who are acknowledged masters of the short story form. Joyce Carol Oates in her 1998 essay “Beginnings: The Origins and Art of the Short Story” is especially illuminating.

Now, of course, since ancient times English teachers have been happy to elucidate the scaffolding of stories for their students.  A story has a plot, for example, which often follows the pattern of a conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. Stories are told from the point of view of character in the story, these days either in the first person “I” or from the point of view of the third person, a she or he. The central character, the protagonist, in a story will often have an antagonist. Characters can be Read more »

Kaze: Through with Pauline Kael

image of a german poster for "the Red Shoes"

A couple of Fridays ago I tucked myself in on the couch and watched, for the fourth or fifth time, The Red Shoes. I’m no expert on ballet movies, but my guess is that The Red Shoes is the most renowned and widely beloved ballet movie ever made—and, for what it’s worth, I would add, deservedly so. Shot in Technicolor in 1948 and recently restored, it’s a dazzling experience.

The best movies are, on some level, myth-makers.  They create a world into which you enter and live, for awhile, by its rules.  I love The Red Shoes, which creates a world in which one’s art really counts. When it was over I went through my collection of film anthologies to read more about it . . .

And made, as I sometimes do, the mistake of picking up a volume of the late Pauline Kael’s mini-reviews Read more »

Remembering Johnny Cash

posterized photo of the great Johnny Cash in his prime.

I’d love to be in Austin, Texas, Friday night this week. There’s a big 80th birthday bash concert for Johnny Cash labeled “We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash.” Older “outlaw country” stars like Kris Kristofferson and Lucinda Williams will be there along with young traditionalists Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings, himself the son of the late outlaw great Waylon Jennings. Only one problem: no Man in Black. Johnny Cash died in 2003 at age 71. Read more »


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